Kevin Williams, an assistant professor of Earth sciences at Buffalo State College, is involved with a project on a NASA spacecraft now orbiting the Moon.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration sent the spacecraft to garner new and necessary information about lunar features that will inform future exploration. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is outfitted with an array of scientific instruments, which will collect lunar imagery, topography, temperature measurements and more.
Williams’ research will make use of the mini-RF – a radar instrument that can collect information about the texture and composition of the lunar surface. In particular, Williams is focused on volcanic deposits that, he says, “may hold titanium and high concentrations of oxygen.”
Such information might be useful for future Moon landings because titanium is a potential building material and oxygen might be used for breathing or making water.
Equally important, the kind of data Williams hopes to collect “helps us understand the history of the Moon,” he says. While most people may consider the Moon dead, Williams says that’s not the case. Learning more about the history of the Moon will provide clues about our neighbor’s future.
Radar images from Earth already have provided much information about the Moon’s surface. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will be able to collect much more detailed information by virtue of proximity.
Mini-RF also provides information about the roughness of the surface and how it relates to important elements that might one day be mined from the volcanic deposits.
“We’ve done a lot of looking at the Moon with our eyes,” Williams says. “This is a new way of looking and it gives us information we can’t get from pictures alone.”
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