An unmanned Minotaur 5 rocket blasted off on Friday to send a small NASA science satellite on its way to the moon.
The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) will look for dust rising from the moon’s surface.
Decades ago, Apollo crews reported seeing a strange glow on the horizon just before sunrise.
Scientists suspected that dust from the lunar surface was being electrically charged and somehow lofted off the ground.
Apollo astronauts have described the dust as “like talcum powder,” but strangely abrasive. It smelled “like spent gunpowder” and clung to their boots, gloves and equipment, they said.
More than 40 years after the last Apollo astronauts left the moon,LADEE will investigate one of their most bizarre discoveries.
In addition to studying the lunar dust, from an orbit as low as 50 kilometers above the lunar surface, LADEE will probe the tenuous envelope of gases that surrounds the moon, a veneer so thin it stretches the meaning of the word “atmosphere.”
Scientists refer to such environments as exospheres and hope that understanding the moon’s gaseous shell will shed light on similar pockets around Mercury, asteroids and other airless bodies.
The mission is expected to last about six months.