Study of lunar dust may lead to better flood forecasts on Earth

Apr 15, 2013 by Ken Kaye

Forecasters may one day be able to provide better flood warnings, thanks to the Apollo astronauts who landed on the moon more than four decades ago.

Actually, it's thanks to John Lane, a physicist who set out to preserve historic sites, but stumbled upon a way to improve forecasts for heavy downpours.

"It wasn't my main goal by any means," he said. "But measuring is really no different than measuring rain."

Lane initially decided to use a to measure the amount of dust a rocket ship kicked up as it landed on the lunar surface. The idea was to allow NASA to calculate how far away a rocket would need to remain from an Apollo touchdown area to prevent damage. Apollo sites are considered valuable lunar landmarks.

In the process, he discovered that a laser beam, which has the ability to detect , could easily determine the size of raindrops. With that information, forecasters can better predict rainfall rates over an hour or several hours. If the rates are high, the chances of flooding also are likely to be high.

Although he has no meteorological training, Lane said he was able to see the connection to weather forecasting. Now he thinks data from the lasers could be used to make computerized more accurate.

"The weather service is focused on public safety, and this advance might help," he said.

Robert Molleda, meteorologist for the in Miami, said such technology would be welcomed, considering current weather radar has a hard time estimating the size of raindrops.

"If you can accurately determine the size of a raindrop, you can find the relationship between the amount of rain and rainfall rates," he said.

Lane's presented his idea to an American Meteorological Society conference in January. He said he hopes NASA will continue refining the laser technology at a University of Central Florida laboratory and then make it available to the weather service, which could attach the lasers to weather station rain gauges around the country.

Implementing it wouldn't be expensive because the lasers are similar to those used on hunting rifles and cost less than $100, he said.

Between 1968 and 1972, Apollo missions successfully put men on the moon six times. Since then, several unmanned missions have reached the - the last one being the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory mission on Dec. 17.

The next landing may come as part of the Google Lunar X-Prize competition, where $30 million in prizes are being offered to the first privately funded team to put a robot on the moon and have it send back video and images.

Explore further: Mars, Saturn and the claws of Scorpius

3.7 /5 (3 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Physicist happens upon rain data breakthrough

Dec 03, 2012

(Phys.org)—A physicist and researcher who set out to develop a formula to protect Apollo sites on the moon from rocket exhaust may have happened upon a way to improve weather forecasting on Earth.

Europe's plans to visit the Moon in 2018

Jul 27, 2012

The European Space Agency is aiming for the Moon with their Lunar Lander mission, anticipated to arrive on the lunar surface in 2018. Although ESA successfully put a lander on the surface of Titan with the ...

NASA offers guidelines to protect historic sites on the Moon

May 24, 2012

(Phys.org) -- NASA and the X Prize Foundation of Playa Vista, Calif., announced Thursday the Google Lunar X Prize is recognizing guidelines established by NASA to protect lunar historic sites and preserve ongoing and future ...

Future lunar landing sites mapped out

Jan 07, 2011

Here’s the map of the future: a look where all the contestants in the Google Lunar X PRIZE intend to land on the Moon, in hopes of nabbing the $30 million in prizes available to the first privately funded ...

The thirty-ninth anniversary of the last moonwalk

Dec 14, 2011

On December 13, 1972, Apollo 17 Commander Eugene A. Cernan and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Harrison H. “Jack” Schmitt made the final lunar EVA or moonwalk of the final Apollo mission. Theirs was the ...

Recommended for you

Mars, Saturn and the claws of Scorpius

3 hours ago

Look up at the night sky this week and you'll find Mars and Saturn together in the west. Mars stands out with its reddish colouring and you might just be able to detect a faint yellow tinge to Saturn. ...

Electric sparks may alter evolution of lunar soil

6 hours ago

The moon appears to be a tranquil place, but modeling done by University of New Hampshire and NASA scientists suggests that, over the eons, periodic storms of solar energetic particles may have significantly ...

User comments : 0