Crashing into the moon!

Mike Murray

It might sound like the latest disaster movie, but it’s for real.  No, the moon isn’t going to crack apart (like in the movie “The Time Machine.”).  It’s a booster rocket and a space probe that will impact the lunar surface near its south pole on Friday morning, October 9 in search of a precious resource: Water!

Called “LCROSS” for the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, it’s been looping around both the earth and moon for over three months now.  The delicate orbital dance will set LCROSS on the perfect trajectory for a high angle impact into a crater called Cabeus, only 5 degrees latitude up from the south pole of the moon.

Detail view of the targeted impact crater, Cabeus, located near the south pole of the moon.

Detail view of the targeted impact crater, Cabeus, located near the south pole of the moon.

LCROSS is still attached to its upper stage booster, called the Centaur.  They were left connected on purpose.  Normally the Centaur rocket would be jettisoned after placing its cargo on the right trajectory, but in this case, the Centaur is a key part of the cargo!  Scientists need an “impactor” with enough mass to blast out significant amounts of lunar material high enough to be measured by LCROSS and earth-based observatories.  By scanning this plume of dust and soil, we can measure its composition and find out whether water ice exists in the permanently shadowed craters of the moon.

Illustration representing the Centaur booster's impact. The LCROSS probe will impact just minutes after.

Illustration representing the Centaur booster's impact. The LCROSS probe will impact just minutes after.

The impact is scheduled to take place about 5:30 a.m. MDT Friday, Oct. 9, 2009.  LCROSS and many other satellites and observatories will be watching.  NASA-TV will be carrying the event live, but there won’t be much to see until photos and video come in from hundreds of sources during Friday and Saturday.

To give you the best possible summary of the mission, I’ll be giving a presentation at Clark Planetarium Saturday afternoon, Oct. 10, at 3:30 p.m. in the Hansen Dome Theatre.  We’ll include as much high resolution imagery and video as we can get our hands on – more than you’ll get to see in any news story or magazine article – and in the most immersive environment available!

Tickets for the presentation at the planetarium are $1 at the ticket window. You can also purchase your online tickets now through our website (Note: Tickets purchased online have a $1 processing fee, making each ticket $2.)

I hope to see you this weekend!

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