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Fall 2009 Table of Contents

A Bit of BU Goes Moonbound

Astronomer's work launches with lunar orbiter

| From Commonwealth | By Devin Hahn

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Harlan Spence explains his role in sending NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to the moon. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky.

Half a century after Neil Armstrong's pioneering mission to the moon, NASA scientists are preparing to go back for a longer stay, with the help of a team of Boston University researchers. Led by Harlan Spence (CAS'83), a College of Arts & Sciences professor of astronomy, the group has been helping to prepare for the potential danger of exposure to solar radiation. When the rocket carrying NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) launched last June, their creation — part telescope, part synthetic human tissue — went up with it.

The instrument developed by Spence and company is called CRaTER (cosmic ray telescope for the effects of radiation), one of two LRO instruments responsible for collecting data on the moon's radiation environment. It's outfitted with a substance called tissue-equivalent plastic, meant to mimic the way human tissue absorbs energy (and radiation). The LRO satellite will hover over the moon for at least a year, getting an extraterrestrial suntan while mapping the lunar surface with high-resolution images and collecting other information to help lay the groundwork for a sustainable human presence there.

“We will be discovering things we don't even know how to think about right now, and that's very exciting,” Spence says. “A new window on the universe.”

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Which is lightest? elephant, cat, moon, tissue

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