[English]

Lunar Impact Flash Observations

(supervisor: Tony Cook)

Nature of project: experimental, data analysis

Available to full-time physicists or joint students.

Project description and methodology

The energy released from a high velocity (tens of km/s) meteoroid striking the lunar surface is given simply by the Kinetic Energy equation. So for example a 10g rock hitting the Moon at 30 km/s releases 9 million Joules of energy. Now just under 1% of the K.E. is emitted as light, and this can sometimes be detected from Earth-based telescopes, looking at the Moon’s earth-lit night side, as a brief <0.1 flash. One of the main problems though of detecting these faint transient flashes in video, using automated software, is how to reliably discriminate the flash signals from background noise and cosmic ray air shower radiation events striking the camera. This project will investigate ways to optimise the successful detection of impact flashes.

We have two remotely operated telescopes with which you can gather new observational data. However as a backup, there is also a vast collection, of hundreds of hours of lunar video, from which you can experiment on using a couple of impact flash detection software packages: Lunarscan and ALFI.

A successful project will develop beyond the above in one/some of the following directions:
1) Make new observations of the Moon, looking for lunar impact flashes, perhaps even coordinating amateur astronomers in the UK and abroad, during the period of the project - to supply you with additional observations.

2) Explore how the Lunarscan and ALFI software can be optimised (by adjusting detection parameters) in order to identify rarer, brighter lunar impact flashes, on the day side of the Moon - perhaps in shadowed areas or near to the shaded terminator?

3) Can you find a reliable way to tell the difference between cosmic ray radiation shower detections of a flash(es) in the camera, and a true impact flash - if you didn't have a second telescope recording to confirm a detection in the first?

4) Are you able to find a way to automatically rate (rank/sort) any flashes detected so that users are presented with the most likley lunar impact flash first?

When considering where to take your project, please bear in mind the time available. It is preferable to do fewer things well than to try many and not get conclusive results on any of them. However, sometimes it is useful to have a couple of strands of investigation in parallel to work on in case delays occur.

Additional scope or challenge if taken as a Year-4 project: For 4th years students, you could pick 1-3 tasks from the list above and make up the difference (4 goals in total allowed) with those listed below:

1) Are some of the past detected impact flashes point-like or elongated in shape? If the latter why should this be when the craters formed are significantly below the diffraction limited resolution of the telescopes?

2) Investigate how to combine the light curves of impact flashes, detected simultaneously by multiple telescopes, together, to improve the signal to noise ratio.

3) Some video observations exist, which have been taken in different wavebands, can you determine the blackbody temperatures of the impact flashes?

Initial literature for students:

  1. Bullock, A. (2006) Automated Lunar Impact Flash Detection, (2006) 3rd Year BSc Computer Science Project, University of Nottingham - available from your supervisor.
  2. Cudnik, B.M, Palmer, D. W., Palmer, D.M., Cook, A., Venable, R., Gural, P.S. (2003) The Observation and Characterization of Lunar Meteoroid Impact Phenomena. Earth, Moon and Planets, 93(2), pp 97-106.
  3. http://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news/lunar/index.html Marshall Space Flight Center impact flash detection programme
  4. Robert M. Suggs, William J. Cooke, Ronnie J. Suggs, Wesley R. Swift and Nicholas Hollon, (2008) The NASA Lunar Impact Monitoring Program. Earth, Moon and Planets, 102, pp293-298,

Novelty, degree of difficulty and amount of assistance required

The detection of a confirmed impact flash on the Moon, from the UK, has only been achieved once so far, but detection rates in the US suggest that there should be one impact visible per ~12 hours of observation, on average.

The amount of assistance required on this project will involve some basic training to use the robotic telescopes and a briefing in data reduction and analysis techniques.

As a backup against poor observing conditions, we have vast archives of videos of the lunar earthshine and dayside, which we have not analyzed yet.

Project milestones and deliverables (including timescale)

milestoneto be completed by
Understand how to operate the telescopesend of October
Attempt some initial Earthshine observations in order to gain enough observations for the project.Christmas
Full data analysis started on new or archive videosend of February
Prepare summary of statistics of flashes seen so farmid-March

Students taking this project will have to submit a full risk assessment form