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October 8, 2009

LCROSS to slam moon Friday morning; how to watch


NASA's LCROSS spacecraft and its booster rocket are on course to crash into the moon's south pole Friday morning as scientists make another bid to determine whether there is useful water ice hidden in the rocks and soil of a deep polar crater.

The idea is to blast enough of the moon into space with the booster's impact that detectors on board LCROSS itself can measure the water in the debris and send the data back to Earth before the spacecraft itself follows its booster into the dirt. (No, it won't hurt the moon.)

Plans call for both objects to target the Cabeus crater, impacting at 7:31 a.m. and 7:35 a.m. EDT. Scientists and engineers at the Goddard Space Flight Center are playing roles in the the mission's final moments.

Both impacts will also be watched closely through telescopes on Earth and in orbit, in the expectation that one or both crashes will reveal the presence of water. If the answer is positive, it would be a boost to hopes that a manned base at the south pole would have access to water, for drinking and for hydrolysis, which breaks the H2O into hydrogen and oxygen.

The oxygen could help supply the base with breathable air, and the two gases - if there's really enough there - could be repackaged and used as fuel for sending rockets and people back to NASA's LCROSS missionEarth, or elsewhere in the solar system.

Previous unmanned missions to the moon have provided hints of hydrogen at the poles. And the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission now circling the moon has detected a thin, volatile "dew" of water on the lunar surface.

But lunar mission planners are especially interested in water ice at the polar craters. The moon's poles are attractive to base-builders because high elevations could provide nearly constant sunlight for solar electric generation, and shelter (thanks to the steady, low sun angles) from the extremes of heat and cold that prevail closer to the moon's equator.

And the deep polar craters, thanks to the absence of sunlight, are where scientists suspect water ice - delivered during the early bombardment of the inner solar system by icy comets - is most likely to have been preserved.

Unfortunately for people in Maryland, and anywhere east of the Mississippi, the LCROSS impacts won't be visible directly because the moon will have set. (SEE COMMENTS BELOW) In any case, you would need a telescope, with a lens or mirror at least 10 inches in diameter. But there will be ways to watch the events in your jammies via Webcast. Here are some of them:

NASA TV will Web cast the impacts beginning at 6:15 a.m. EDT. There is an onboard camera that should send back dizzying video of the fall.

LCROSS has a Twitter site, too. Follow developments minute to minute.

The mission is also on Facebook, believe it or not. Looks pretty nasty to me, but I guess you could be a friend for a few hours.

Also, the online SLOOH telescope system will provide live Web feeds of the impact. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:08 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Events


The moon won't have set.

FR: You're right. My bad. I checked with Grey Hautaluoma, at NASA headquarters in Washington. He said: "The answer is that the sun will have risen and darkness (and clear sky) is necessary to view." So, the moon will still be up, but the sky will be too bright, and the contrast of moon against the sky too poor to reveal the little puff of debris, even in a telescope. Thanks for the correction.

How stupid a waste of money is this!! All our problems here on EARTH and we spend billions on a wild goose chase for something that will benefit no one except the people perpetuating this fiasco!

FR: Maybe. Or was this what they said about Columbus or the Wright brothers?

Science is almost scary sometimes.

FR: Scary? Really? We've smashed spacecraft into the moon (and Mars, Jupiter, a comet, an asteroid) plenty of times. Most of the Apollo lunar landers were crashed onto the moon after they brought the astronauts back to the command module. Rangers 7, 8 and 9 in the 1960s; Lunar Prospector in 1999; Europe's SMART-1 in 2006; Japan's Kaguya in June of this year, to name just a few, all met the same fate.

I saw the headline and said whhhattt?? then I saw the story and said oh....more money waisted...damn

What time will this happen?

FR: See third paragraph of the post.

It's actually not a waist of money. The whole reason they're planning a permanent moon base is to extract helium 3 which contains a 1million x more energy per pound then a ton of coal. Get your facts straight... it's not a waist of money. With helium 3 we'd be able to power the Planet for the next 10 000 years. Without energy... nothing gets done.

FR: Waste. (Sorry. I'm a word guy.)

I really hope that there are no bad effects from bombing the moon. It just seems insane.

FR: No more than a fruit fly landing on your house. We have crashed many spacecraft on the moon before. (See above.) The only harm is two new craters and trash no one will ever clean up.

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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