Nasa's LADEE Moon probe lifts off

The US space agency (Nasa) has launched its latest mission to the Moon.

The unmanned LADEE probe lifted off from the Wallops rocket facility on the US east coast on schedule at 23:27 local time (03:27 GMT on Saturday).

Its $280m (£180m) mission is to investigate the very tenuous atmosphere that surrounds the lunar body.

It will also try to get some insights on the strange behaviour of moondust, which appears on occasions to levitate high above the surface.

In addition, LADEE will test a new laser communications system that Nasa hopes at some point to put on future planetary missions. Lasers have the capacity to transmit data at rates that dwarf conventional radio connections.

LADEE stands for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.

The Moon's exosphere

  • Lunar atmosphere thought to be only 1/100,000th the density of Earth's atmosphere
  • Earth's atmosphere contains some 100 billion air molecules per cubic cm at sea level
  • May be only about 100,000 to 10 million molecules per cubic cm at the Moon's surface
  • Very little known about this atmosphere's precise atomic and molecular composition


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