APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

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APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby APOD Robot » Fri Apr 18, 2014 4:12 am

Image Red Moon, Green Beam

Explanation: This is not a scene from a sci-fi special effects movie. The green beam of light and red lunar disk are real enough, captured in the early morning hours of April 15. Of course, the reddened lunar disk is easy to explain as the image was taken during this week's total lunar eclipse. Immersed in shadow, the eclipsed Moon reflects the dimmed reddened light of all the sunsets and sunrises filtering around the edges of planet Earth, seen in silhouette from a lunar perspective. But the green beam of light really is a laser. Shot from the 3.5-meter telescope at Apache Point Observatory in southern New Mexico, the beam's path is revealed as Earth's atmosphere scatters some of the intense laser light. The laser's target is the Apollo 15 retroreflector, left on the Moon by the astronauts in 1971. By determining the light travel time delay of the returning laser pulse, the experimental team from UC San Diego is able to measure the Earth-Moon distance to millimeter precision and provide a test of General Relativity, Einstein's theory of gravity. Conducting the lunar laser ranging experiment during a total eclipse uses the Earth like a cosmic light switch. With direct sunlight blocked, the reflector's performance is improved over performance when illuminated by sunlight during a normal Full Moon, an effect fondly known as The Full Moon Curse.

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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby Boomer12k » Fri Apr 18, 2014 8:24 am

So, go up there and clean the prisms with a rover and a can of air.....

Interesting experiment....how does this test Gravity???

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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby JohnD » Fri Apr 18, 2014 9:44 am

Why wait until there is a total eclipse?
Why not irradiate the reflector at New Moon, when the site is in darkness?
The Monn never turns its face, so the site is permanently visible from Earth.

Moreover, in the Lunar Night, the site will be colder, with less thermal gradient to denature the reflectors.
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby Guest » Fri Apr 18, 2014 10:22 am

This may be a stupid question, but why does the beam appear to be narrower at its destination (the moon) rather than wider? I thought that any beam of light (even a collimated beam like a laser) would gradually widen as it travels from origin to destination.
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby Nitpicker » Fri Apr 18, 2014 10:46 am

Boomer, General Relativity is the (hard) one which incorporates gravity. Special Relativity does not. That's just about my limit of knowledge.

John, I'll stand to be corrected, but I think they try to get a measurement as often as possible. The point is that an eclipsed moon is better than a full moon for the purposes of making the measurement. At new moon, it might be adversely affected by a sunlit atmosphere (I don't know).

Guest, the laser appears narrower in the distance because of perspective.

...

To me, the most gratifying thing about this APOD is that the laser seems to be pointing pretty damn close to the Apollo 15 landing site.
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby sinanipek » Fri Apr 18, 2014 12:04 pm

Do we see the reflected beam in thi picture, too? If so, then how amazing that the beam has spreaded almost none in such a huge distance!
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby JohnD » Fri Apr 18, 2014 1:51 pm

Nitpicker wrote:John, I'll stand to be corrected, but I think they try to get a measurement as often as possible. The point is that an eclipsed moon is better than a full moon for the purposes of making the measurement. At new moon, it might be adversely affected by a sunlit atmosphere (I don't know).


So will I, NP, so will I!
But New Moons are seen at Earth night too, aren't they? So no sunlight in the atmosphere ?
Maybe Chris can explain.

Boomer, click on the "lunar laser ranging" link for a brief explanation of what this does to test General Relativity.

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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby Nitpicker » Fri Apr 18, 2014 1:53 pm

A new Moon rises and sets with the Sun.
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby anobium » Fri Apr 18, 2014 1:54 pm

I can see that the laser will provide a precise, fraction of a millimeter, measurement from one device to the other, so that orbital changes are measured with great precision, but do we know to the same precision what differences occur in both instruments due to local factors such as thermal expansion? What about the distance from the devices to the centers of their respective bodies? How closely do the gravitational centers of the bodies correspond to the volumetric ("true?") centers?
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby BDanielMayfield » Fri Apr 18, 2014 1:57 pm

sinanipek wrote:Do we see the reflected beam in thi picture, too? If so, then how amazing that the beam has spreaded almost none in such a huge distance!


No, according to the Apache Point Observatory website, only about 1 out of 30 million photons fired up in the beam actually hit one of the retroreflectors that were left on the Moon, when they're on target. Even though the beam which starts out at 3.5 meters is focused (collimated) as tightly as possible it still spreads out to about 2 kilometers by the time it reaches the Moon. Then this 1/30 millionth as powerful reflected beam also spreads out on the way back, and the odds of any one photon being detected in the return signal are only about 1 in 1 quadrillion! But each laser pulse packs about 300 quadrillion photons.

The only reason we can see (or photograph) the outgoing laser beam at all is because the Earth’s atmosphere is dusty. Dust particles in the air are illuminated and scatter the green laser light, making the beam visible along a short part of its path inside our atmosphere.
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby Bate » Fri Apr 18, 2014 2:20 pm

A minor quibble: the article says that a laser is being shot to the moon rather than light from a laser ...

The green beam in the image is light that is scattered from the beam by the atmosphere so nothing of the beam is visible to us after the atmosphere is too thin to scatter the light. I guess that that the scattering would taper off and end after 15 to 30 kilometers. It's amazing that any return photons can be detected above the ambient noise.
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby BDanielMayfield » Fri Apr 18, 2014 2:41 pm

Bate wrote:It's amazing that any return photons can be detected above the ambient noise.


It helps to have a 3.5 meter wide light bucket waiting for the signal. It also helps to be looking for just one very specific frequency (color) of light.
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby JohnD » Fri Apr 18, 2014 2:46 pm

Nitpicker wrote:A new Moon rises and sets with the Sun.

Of course, NP, up to a point.
But how about this? http://www.starrynightphotos.com/moon/moon_set.htm
There must be days in the month when the crescent Moon is visible at Earthdawn (cold atmosphere) when the Apoolo 15 site is also near dawn (cold surroundings)
An eclipse is no more predictable than such an event, and I suppose less frequent.

But we argue in the vacuum of our own ignorance - mine anyway.
JOhn

PS AH! So! I've found out why they took readings at eclipse.
See: http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/feature/source ... 2014-02-06

The investigators wanted to know why they got so few photons returned. They postulated that the reflectors, heated in the Moon day, were the problem. So they read the reflectors at short intervals, while in sunlight and when eclipsed. They found that when the reflectors were eclipsed, as predicted they returned TEN TIMES more photons! They confirmed this finding with all the Apollo reflectors and the Russian one as the Earth's shadow swept across the Moon.
To be able to do so at such short intervals minimised any interference by changes in the Earth's atmosphere, something impossible if they waited two weeks between Moonday and Moonnight readings. J.
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby Chris Peterson » Fri Apr 18, 2014 3:02 pm

JohnD wrote:Why wait until there is a total eclipse?
Why not irradiate the reflector at New Moon, when the site is in darkness?

I think they make measurements at all lunar phases, with the retroreflector array both in light and dark. The problem with reduced signal at the full moon has little or nothing to do with light interference. The problem is that when the Sun is shining directly down on the array (which only happens at the full moon) it is being structurally altered by heat into a device with poorer optical performance.

The point of making the measurement during an eclipse wasn't to actually measure the distance to the Moon, but to test the theory that the Sun shining directly into the retroreflector cavities changes the optics.
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby bystander » Fri Apr 18, 2014 3:03 pm

Nitpicker wrote:...
To me, the most gratifying thing about this APOD is that the laser seems to be pointing pretty damn close to the Apollo 15 landing site.
APOD Robot wrote:...
The laser's target is the Apollo 15 retroreflector, left on the Moon by the astronauts in 1971.

Boomer12k wrote:...
Interesting experiment....how does this test Gravity???

Apache Point Observatory Lunar Laser-ranging Operation
Lunar Laser Ranging experiment
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby Anthony Barreiro » Fri Apr 18, 2014 4:14 pm

My immediate reaction to today's apod was, "why would anybody want to take a picture of some idiot aiming a laser pointer at the Moon?" After reading the caption I can see that it's one hell of a laser pointer. Certain members of my astronomy club would give their left arm to get a laser pointer that powerful. Does anybody know the wattage?
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby Chris Peterson » Fri Apr 18, 2014 4:42 pm

Anthony Barreiro wrote:My immediate reaction to today's apod was, "why would anybody want to take a picture of some idiot aiming a laser pointer at the Moon?" After reading the caption I can see that it's one hell of a laser pointer. Certain members of my astronomy club would give their left arm to get a laser pointer that powerful. Does anybody know the wattage?

The average output is about 2W, which is close to some handheld lasers. The difference is that while most lasers have a continuous output, this one pumps out very short high energy pulses 20 times per second. But what we see visually (or photographically) with this instrument is the same as we'd see with a 2W continuous laser. So quite a bit dimmer than the lasers used to generate artificial stars for adaptive optics systems on other telescopes.
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby Anthony Barreiro » Fri Apr 18, 2014 4:58 pm

Chris Peterson wrote:
Anthony Barreiro wrote:My immediate reaction to today's apod was, "why would anybody want to take a picture of some idiot aiming a laser pointer at the Moon?" After reading the caption I can see that it's one hell of a laser pointer. Certain members of my astronomy club would give their left arm to get a laser pointer that powerful. Does anybody know the wattage?

The average output is about 2W, which is close to some handheld lasers. The difference is that while most lasers have a continuous output, this one pumps out very short high energy pulses 20 times per second. But what we see visually (or photographically) with this instrument is the same as we'd see with a 2W continuous laser. So quite a bit dimmer than the lasers used to generate artificial stars for adaptive optics systems on other telescopes.

Thanks Chris. A laser enthusiast had a 500 mW laser pointer at one of our star parties. Every time he turned it on people lost their night vision. We threatened to report him to the FAA if he brought it again.
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby BDanielMayfield » Fri Apr 18, 2014 5:10 pm

Here’s a fun fact that I came across in reading about laser range finding, highlighted in red:
physics.ucsd.edu/~tmurphy/apollo/basics wrote:We reference our measurements to the center of the telescope mount, where the azimuth axis and elevation axis intersect each other. As the telescope swings around to point at different parts of the sky, this point stays fixed—almost.... The position of the telescope relative to the center of the earth isn't as stationary as you might imagine. The continental plate drifts, the tides from the moon and sun make the site swell by about a foot twice a day, weather systems can push the local crust down, etc. We have to be aware of all of these influences and take them into account in order to extract the scientifically useful center-to-center distance between the earth and moon.

Slow continental drift and daily tidal motions (even of the Earth's solid crust) are facts widely known, but I had no idea that weather changes could cause changes in altitude (even at the millimeter scale) of the Earth’s land surfaces. Atmospheric pressure at sea level averages, what, about 15 pounds per square inch? (Sorry for the non SI units) How much does it vary about its mean? It’s amazing to me that barometric pressure differences could be enough to effect the position of a telescope relative to the Earth’s center.
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby BMAONE23 » Fri Apr 18, 2014 5:18 pm

Guest wrote:This may be a stupid question, but why does the beam appear to be narrower at its destination (the moon) rather than wider? I thought that any beam of light (even a collimated beam like a laser) would gradually widen as it travels from origin to destination.


Not a stupid question at all (there aren't really any stupid questions since you are smart enough to seek the answer to an unknown.)

A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation. The term "laser" originated as an acronym for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation". Lasers differ from other sources of light because they emit light coherently. Spatial coherence allows a laser to be focused to a tight spot, enabling applications like laser cutting and lithography. Spatial coherence also allows a laser beam to stay narrow over long distances known as collimation, enabling applications such as laser pointers.

The Laser Beam isn't exactly the same size though once it covers the 238,000 mi trip though. At the Moon's surface, the beam has spread to about 6.5 kilometers or 4 miles wide and scientists compare the task of aiming the beam to using a rifle to hit a moving dime 3 kilometers or 2 miles away. The reflected light is too weak to be seen with the human eye: out of 1017 photons aimed at the reflector, only one will be received back on Earth every few seconds, even under good conditions. It only appears smaller to the efect of the Vanishing Point.
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby neufer » Fri Apr 18, 2014 5:58 pm

Click to play embedded YouTube video.
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby Ron-Astro Pharmacist » Fri Apr 18, 2014 9:04 pm

I know this sounds like something out of Reagan's "Star Wars Defense" but this APOD makes me wonder if a powerful laser could be utilized in a way to analyze atmospheres or surfaces of some of our solar system bodies similar to how Curiosity uses its laser capabilities?

http://www.space.com/23851-mars-rover-curiosity-laser-100000th-shot.html
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby JohnD » Fri Apr 18, 2014 10:09 pm

Ron,
If you have read all the stuff about the Moon distance experiment, you will appreciate that:
A/ The light is returned from specially designed reflectors, left on the Moon by the Apollo landers and a Russian probe.
and
B/ even with that help, the return after travelling a third of a million miles, twice, is about one photon.
and
C/ Curiosity's laser has a range of 0.006 miles
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Last edited by JohnD on Sat Apr 19, 2014 9:31 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby Boomer12k » Sat Apr 19, 2014 12:01 am

Shooting the Moon???

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Re: APOD: Red Moon, Green Beam (2014 Apr 18)

Postby Claudio Sánchez » Wed Apr 23, 2014 4:16 pm

How can the beam be visible its full way to the moon? Beyond earth atmosphere there's no particles where the laser can be scattered.
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