Sunday, November 6, 2016

Goodbye Mars, Hello Moon

Congrats to Jake on completing all requirements for his MSc! Tomorrow I sign off officially on his thesis revisions, paving the way for his graduation. Jake is the first graduate student to complete a degree from PVL. We hope he is the first of many. With the change of degrees comes a change of targets for his studies, moving from Mars over to the Moon to help with some instrumentation development. But first, Jake is investigating the environment in which his equipment is intended to operate - hence the Lyman-alpha sky map above.

By Jake Kloos

In the weeks since my last post, a lot has transpired, but the main highlight is that on September 16th, I successfully defended my thesis. Overall, I thought that it went fairly well. I gave what could very well be my final talk on Martian clouds, and managed to escape from the oral examination with only specified revisions, which is about as good as I realistically could have done. My examiners - Dr. Mark Gordon, Dr. Jim Whiteway and Dr. Patrick Hall -  were fair, and gave me a lot of insightful feedback.

As much as I have enjoyed studying Mars and its climate, a new degree will involve a new project. For my PhD work, I will be helping to design, build and test a camera that will image water-ice in the permanently shadowed regions (PSRs) of the moon. The camera would operate on a future lunar rover, and is in response to the increasing scientific interest in the PSRs due to the water-ice that resides in these regions. In fact, one of the main drivers for this research is that it may help to determine the location for a future human base, given that water is such a valuable resource.

One of the more exciting aspects of the lunar project is the novelty of the imaging technique. In order to image ice located in the permanently shadowed regions of the moon, as one might imagine, you have to get a little creative. By definition, the ice within the PSRs does not directly interact with (and therefore reflect) sunlight, and so in order to “see” the ice that is present, you are left with two options: (1) equip the rover with a light source which would operate in conjunction with the camera to seek out and image the water-ice; or (2) use the faint light sources available, such as distant starlight and sunlight scattered by dust particles within the interplanetary medium.

Both options have their advantages and disadvantages. Using a light source could provide more illumination, and therefore enhance the image quality, however the light source would ultimately require substantial power, as well as increase the payload mass and cost. Option 2, which is the route that we have chosen, would likely be cheaper, and also has heritage, as it is already being successfully implemented by Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP), which is a camera on board the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The faint illumination, however, presents a number of challenges, most notably that it requires the camera operate in the FUV and it is not yet clear what quality of imaging we can hope to achieve.

I have discovered in the past few weeks that, depending on who you are talking to, this idea sounds either relatively straightforward or impossibly complex. In reality, it will probably be somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, but only time will tell where upon this spectrum the project will lie. However difficult this new project may prove, the last two years have certainly prepared me for this new endeavor, and I feel like I am up to the challenge. For my master’s, I gained experience in image processing, data analysis, camera optics and calibration, all of which I think will come in handy as I move forward with this new project. All of my future successes and frustrations will undoubtedly be documented in future posts, so stay tuned!

No comments:

Post a Comment