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Chandrayaan-2 launches next generation Apollo experiment to the Moon



An Indian spaceship carries the first reflectors left on the moon since the Apollo era.

The reflectors, part of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) mission Chandrayaan-2, which was launched earlier this week, represents the next generation of an experiment that began in 1969.

50 years ago (and a few days ago) the Apollo 11 astronauts left the Moon Laser Ranging Experiment on the Moon. The experiment contained a shell of 100 small prisms that scientists on Earth would shoot down with laser beams. Astronauts on Apollo 14 and 15 followed suit and left more of these prisms known as retroreflectors on the moon. Incredible decades later, these reflectors remain active experiments .

Related: Why does the Apollo Reflector Experiment still work 50 years later?

Burning Lasers At these reflectors, scientists on Earth observe the time it takes for the laser to return and then study the distance between the Moon and Earth. In this way, scientists can measure and analyze the orbit, rotation, orientation and relationship of the moon to the earth. So far, these experiments have not only improved the scientists' understanding of how the moon moves and how far we are from it, but also provided evidence that the moon has a liquid nucleus .

Although these decades-old experiments continue to work and provide scientists with accurate and useful data, the reflectors will soon be upgraded. A team led by Principal Investigator Doug Currie, a senior scientist and professor at the University of Maryland, who was a key member of the team designing the original Apollo reflectors, has developed a new laser retroreflector array that was developed at the Moon should land. The new reflector, developed in collaboration with Co-Principal Investigator Simone Dell & # 39; Agnello, a senior technologist at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics ̵

1; Frascati National Labs in Italy and researchers from the University of Maryland, is known as "Next Generation Lunar". known retroreflector (NGLR).

The next-generation lunar reflector (left) next to its predecessor from the Apollo era (right). [19659010] (Photo credits: Doug Currie)

ISRO launched this new reflector on Monday (July 22) aboard the Chandrayaan-2 Vikram lander at the South Pole of the Moon. The NGLR differs from its predecessors in the fact that it is not only intended for a new position on the moon, but is also designed more accurately.

The team behind the NGLR is aiming for a hundredfold improvement in the accuracy of the experiment. It has improved reflectors and uses more reflectors on a larger lunar surface than previous reflectors a statement by the University of Maryland .

The next-generation retroreflectors are much more compact and lighter than Apollo's meter-long arrays used by Apollo 11, 14, and 15 astronauts, "Dell Agnello e-mailed Space.com added. They further explained that the NGLR is a "microreflector", a single 4 inch diameter retroreflector. This differs significantly from Apolo's array of 100 1.5 "diameter retroreflectors.

"Our next-generation Lunar Retroreflector is a version of the 21st-century instruments currently on the moon," Currie said in the statement. "Each placement of a next-generation lunar laser rangefinder will greatly enhance the scientific and navigational capabilities of the retroreflector network, and these enhancements will enhance the mapping and navigation capabilities that drive NASA's plans to return to the moon and establish a lasting human presence by 2028 are."

The reflectors help scientists to explore other areas of science as well. For example, scientists will use the reflectors to conduct new tests of general relativity and related theories that might help learn more about dark matter, the mysterious material that accounts for almost 27% of the universe, Currie said.

"Plus" Dell & # 39; Agnello added, "Laser retroreflectors will serve surface geodesy, lunar cartography, exploration, ISRU, and various forms of future lunar (and / or Mars) trading that require surface metrology measurements since the dawn on Earth took place the urbanization. "

The NGLR is one of 12 investigations which NASA has selected in the context of the Artemis Moon Program for the study and study of the moon , The experiments and demonstrations "will help the agency send astronauts to the moon by 2024 to prepare for sending humans to Mars for the first time," NASA officials said in a statement .

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd . Follow us on Twitter @SpaceTotcom and Facebook .


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