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Results of Lunar Impact Observations During Geminid Meteor Shower EventsMeteoroids are natural particles with origins from comets, asteroids, and planets from within the solar system. On average, 33 metric tons (73,000 lb) of meteoroids hit Earth everyday with velocities ranging between 20 and 72 km/s. However, the vast majority of these meteoroids disintegrate in the atmosphere and never make it to the ground. The Moon also encounters the same meteoroid flux, but has no atmosphere to stop them from striking the surface. At such speeds even a small meteoroid has incredible energy. A meteoroid with a mass of only 5 kg can excavate a crater over 9 m across, hurling 75 metric tons (165,000 lb) of lunar soil and rock on ballistic trajectories above the lunar surface. Meteoroids with particle sizes as small as 100 micrometer (1 Microgram) can do considerable damage to spacecraft in Earth's orbit and beyond. Impacts can damage thermal protection systems, radiators, windows, and pressurized containers. Secondary effects might include partial penetration or pitting, local deformation, and surface degradation that can cause a failure upon reentry. The speed, mass, density, and flux of meteoroids are important factors for design considerations and mitigation during operations. Lunar operations (unmanned and manned) are also adversely affected by the meteoroid flux. Ejecta from meteoroid impacts is also part of the lunar environment and must be characterized. Understanding meteoroid fluxes and the associated risk of meteoroids impacting spacecraft traveling in and beyond Earth's orbit is the objective of the Meteoroid Environment Office (MEO) located at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). One of the MEO's programs is meteoroid impact monitoring of the Moon. The large collecting area of the night side of the lunar disk provides statistically significant counts of meteoroids that can provide useful information about the flux of meteoroids in the hundreds of grams to kilograms size range. This information is not only important for characterizing the lunar environment associated with larger lunar impactors, but also provides statistical data for verification and improving meteoroid prediction models. Current meteoroid models indicate that the Moon is struck by a sporadic meteoroid with a mass greater than 1 kg over 260 times per year. This number is very uncertain since observations for objects in this mass range are few. Factors of several times, higher or lower, are easily possible. Meteor showers are also present to varying degrees at certain times of the year. The Earth experiences meteor showers when encountering the debris left behind by comets, which is also the case with 2 the Moon. During such times, the rate of shower meteoroids can greatly exceed that of the sporadic background rate for larger meteoroids. Looking for meteor shower impacts on the Moon at about the same time as they occur on Earth will yield important data that can be fed into meteor shower forecasting models, which can then be used to predict times of greater meteoroid hazard on the Moon. The Geminids are one such meteor shower of interest. The Geminids are a major meteor shower that occur in December with a peak intensity occurring usually during the 13th and 14th of the month and appearing to come from a radiant in the constellation Gemini. The Geminids are interesting in that the parent body of the debris stream is an asteroid, which along with the Quadrantids, are the only major meteor showers not originating from a comet. The Geminids parent body, 3200 Phaethon, is about 5 km in diameter and has an orbit that has a 22deg inclination which intersects the main asteroid belt and has a perihelion less than half of Mercury's perihelion distance. Thus, its orbit crosses those of Mars, Earth, Venus, and Mercury. The Geminid debris stream is by far the most massive as compared to the others. When the Earth passes through the stream in mid-December, a peak intensity of approx. equal 120 meteors per hour can be seen. Because of the Geminids' relatively large intensity and unique origin, it is important to monitor and gain information about the Geminids so as to improve their forecasts and understand their contribution to the meteoroid environment in Earth's orbit and at the Moon. It is the purpose of this Technical Memorandum (TM) to document two lunar observing periods coinciding with the Geminid meteor showers that occurred in 2006 and 2010.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Marshall Space Flight Center
Document Type
Technical Memorandum (TM)
Suggs, R. J.
(NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL, United States)
Suggs, R. M.
(NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL, United States)
Date Acquired
June 3, 2015
Publication Date
May 1, 2015
Subject Category
Lunar And Planetary Science And Exploration
Report/Patent Number
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
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