NASA's Moon Bombing Mission
Yesterday, NASA crashed its Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite into the moon in the hope of finding water. As an added bonus, the impact offered a chance for amateurs with large telescopes to observe and/or photograph the impact’s expected plume of debris. So how did the mission turn out?
It depends on who you ask. Scientifically, the mission went off reasonably well. The spent rocket smashed into the moon as planned, and the accompanying satellite, armed with sensors, collected data, then transmitted to Earth, before it crashed into the lunar surface, too. There was definitely debris blown into space, even though Earthlings could not see it. While the data returned from the LCROSS sensors has not been completely analyzed, preliminary examination has shown sulfur to have been among the materials ejected into space and picked up by the sensors on the LCROSS satellite. As for impact damage, LCROSS created a new crater estimated to be 60 feet wide and 13 feet deep in lunar crater Cabeus A. In the coming days, scientists will pour over the date, in search of the intended objective of the mission: water ice.
For the observers/photographers, the impact was a dud. There was no visible plume of debris ejected into space. However, from LCROSS, the story was different. Using an infrared camera, LCROSS detected a flash of heat at the impact. However, the impact seen was smaller than expected. While there was definitely an impact, but Earth-based photographers were shooting in the wrong wavelength of light. As for the scientists, they are holding their breath. Since the impact was smaller than expected, there is some worry as to whether enough debris was ejected into space to gather sufficient data.
The whole impetus for the LCROSS mission was the fact that spectroscopic measurements of the lunar surface showed traces of chemical bonds between hydrogen and oxygen, thus implying water. The goal of LCROSS was to determine whether there was water below ground in larger amounts than on the lunar surface. If water is found on the moon in large amounts, it will solve one of the largest logistical problems of returning men to the moon, which is bringing water for use on a permanent lunar outpost.
While the LCROSS mission is itself over, the real work has just begun for NASA in analyzing the results of what the LCROSS instruments picked up in the lunar debris. Unfortunately for observers/photographers, all that was ever recorded was the static lunar surface. However, should there be water on the moon and if astronauts go back, many amazing photos are sure to follow.