NASA's New Quest: Solve Mystery of 'Horizon Glow'

Former ballistic missile set to launch from Virginia island

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Sep 2, 2013 9:12 AM CDT

(Newser) – NASA scientists are setting their sights on the moon once again, with a launch due Sept. 6—the agency's first-ever deep-space mission to blast off from Virginia's Eastern Shore, the Virginian-Pilot notes. It's also the first mission for the US Air Force Minotaur V, a ballistic missile-turned-spacecraft. Researchers hope the $280 million Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission will help them explain a fascinating phenomenon: a glow over the moon's horizon, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

Astronauts have been aware of it since as far back as the 1960s, though descriptions vary. Decades ago, scientists described the glow as a narrow strip of light; later astronauts reported an array of beams stretching hundreds of miles upward. And in 1994, an orbiter saw nothing at all. "One of the things LADEE wants to try to ascertain is: Is this really happening, or is this just somebody's imagination?" says an expert. Meanwhile, Virginia's petite Chincoteague Island is preparing for a huge influx of visitors to watch the launch. The island has just two viewing spots to accommodate visitors that could number in the thousands, the Virginian-Pilot reports—and this event could herald many more high-profile launches.

The moon's 'horizon glow' intrigues scientists.
The moon's 'horizon glow' intrigues scientists.   (Shutterstock)
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