Early Friday morning, the LCROSS probe will crash into the lunar south pole, looking for further evidence of water on the Moon. Above is a map showing approximately where LCROSS will strike; if you have a 10″ telescope (or larger), you should be able to view the impacts for yourself!
The actual impacts commence at 4:30 am PDT (11:30 UT). The Centaur rocket will strike first, transforming 2200 kg of mass and 10 billion joules of kinetic energy into a blinding flash of heat and light. Researchers expect the impact to throw up a plume of debris as high as 10 km.
Close behind, the LCROSS mothership will photograph the collision for NASA TV and then fly right through the debris plume. Onboard spectrometers will analyze the sunlit plume for signs of water (H2O), water fragments (OH), salts, clays, hydrated minerals and assorted organic molecules.
“If there’s water there, or anything else interesting, we’ll find it,” says Tony Colaprete of NASA Ames, the mission’s principal investigator.
This is an exciting opportunity for ordinary citizens to watch space exploration in action! There’s simply nothing like seeing the planets (or anything else) with your own eyeball; print and digital images just do not compare to the “real thing”.
EDIT, October 10, 2009: First images of the Centaur impact (as seen from LCROSS) are online!
This mid-infrared image was taken in the last minutes of the LCROSS flight mission to the Moon. The small white spot (enlarged in the insets) seen within the dark shadow of lunar crater walls is the initial flash created by the impact of a spent Centaur upper stage rocket. Traveling at 1.5 miles per second, the Centaur rocket hit the lunar surface yesterday at 4:31am UT, followed a few minutes later by the shepherding LCROSS spacecraft. Earthbound observatories have reported capturing both impacts. But before crashing into the lunar surface itself, the LCROSS spacecraft’s instrumentation successfully recorded close-up the details of the rocket stage impact, the resulting crater, and debris cloud. In the coming weeks, data from the challenging mission will be used to search for signs of water in the lunar material blasted from the surface.