It's Almost Time!

It’s almost time!

It’s been over three months since the Atlas V soared from Cape Canaveral, Fla. into space carrying the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (“LCROSS” for short). Now it’s finally time for LCROSS to do its things and get up close and personal with the moon.

 An artist’s interpretation of NASA’s LCROSS spacecraft observing the first
impact of its rocket booster’s Centaur upper stage before heading in for its
own crash into the moon’s south pole. Credit: NASA

On Oct. 9 beginning at 6:30 a.m. CDT, the LCROSS spacecraft and heavier Centaur upper stage rocket will execute a series of procedures to separately hurl themselves toward the lunar surface to create a pair of debris plumes that will be analyzed for the presence of water ice. The Centaur is aiming for the Cabeus crater near the moon’s south pole and scientist expect it to kick up approximately ten kilometers (6.2 miles) of lunar dirt from the crater’s floor. 

Image of NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility. Credit: NASA

The sun never rises above certain crater rims at the lunar pole and some crater floors may not have seen sunlight for billions of years. With temperature estimated to be near minus 328 degrees Fahrenheit, these craters can ‘cold trap’ or capture most volatiles or water ice.

Earth-based radar image of the North Pole of the Moon, showing the position of the crater
Erlanger (arrow). Photo: Arecibo Observatory and NASA

On the day of impact, LCROSS at approximately 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles) above the lunar surface will spin 180 degrees to turn its science payload toward the moon and fire thrusters to slow down. The spacecraft will observe the flash from the Centaur’s impact and fly through the debris plume. Data will be collected and streamed to LCROSS mission operations for analysis. Four minutes later, LCROSS also will impact, creating a second debris plume.

The LCROSS science team will lead a coordinated observation campaign that includes LRO, the Hubble Space Telescope, observatories on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea and amateur astronomers around the world.

It’s an exciting time for the most prominent object in our night sky with water being found on the surface last week by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper — one of eleven scientific devices carried by the Chandrayaan-One spacecraft of the Indian Space Research Organization.

These images show a very young lunar crater on the side of the moon that faces away
from Earth, as viewed by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper on the Indian Space
Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. Image credit: NASA

However, the Moon Mineralogy Mapper can only observe lunar soil to a depth of a few millimeters and the amount of water present in that layer is very small. It’s been said the driest deserts on Earth have more water than the surface of the moon near its poles. LCROSS could prove that water does exist deeper beneath the moon’s surface and present a valuable resource in the human quest to explore the solar system.

Astronaut James Irwin, lunar module pilot, gives a military salute while standing
beside the deployed U.S. flag during the Apollo 15 lunar surface extravehicular
activity (EVA) at the Hadley-Apennine landing site. Credit: NASA

Two ways to watch the impact:

Tune into NASA TV. The Agency will broadcast impact live from the moon, with coverage beginning Friday morning at 5:15 a.m. CDT. The first hour, pre-impact, will offer expert commentary, spacecraft status reports, and a computer-generated preview of the impacts.

Or you can watch in your backyard using your telescope. Viewing opportunities are best for the Pacific Ocean and western parts of North America due to absence of light and a good view of the Moon at the time of impact. Hawaii is the best place to be, with Pacific coast states of the USA a close second. Any place west of the Mississippi River, however, is a potential observing site.

W.M. Keck Observatory and the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility with Haleakala on
Maui in the distance as seen at sunset from Mauna Kea. Credit: John Fischer


25 thoughts on “It's Almost Time!”

  1. Not understanding why we have to crash Mill’s dollars into the moon and not have a drilling platform sent–non manned as we can do and did do for Mars on a smaller scale but able to drill (small as the hole maybe)think that would a more challenging and open up more possbilities and have a reusable system…CHEAPER in the long run..?

  2. he moon, just like humans and everything else living or not in our universe, is destructable! An asteroid hitting the moon is something that has always happened (some larger and others smaller) and is just a part of life. The moon can handle this as it has demonstrated time and time again. A missile is not the same shape as an asteroid as it is linear in shape and will pack more punch in a more concentrated area. This worries me nothing like this has ever been done before (to my knowledge). Every time we try something new be it a vaccine, type of surgery, construction of a bridge or a dam etc… there is always a chance something will go wrong and usually it doesn’t but on rare occassion it does. The moon is not just some object in the sky that we don’t depend on. Life as we know it depends on our moon continuing to remain consistant in doing the job it does. If something happens to change the moon in any way, we are all in trouble. Hope it all works out.

  3. I have not found any explanation about how safe this really is. The moon effects us in many ways. some obvious, others not so obvious. If this does anything to it (granted it probably won’t) we are in some serious trouble. I will be in school around the impact and would like to know if I will be safe or if I should kiss my girlfriend goodbye. Either way it would be nice to know the statistics. Is the moon going to be knocked out of orbit and crush us all? Is it going to be moved slightly, effecting the tide, and destroying habitats along with homes? Neither of these possiblities have much of a chance of happening but I would like to know the exact chances.

  4. I really don’t think that it will effect the moon, bigger things have hit it and its still fine. Personally I’m not worried, but others might be.

  5. coolio! Does anyone know if NASA had to obtain any international approval for this mission? Or do other first world countries simply trust the U.S. with something like this. And what is the point of the mission? What if we find water? How’s that important for mankind?

  6. very interested in the rocket crash into the moon tomorrow. will this be telecast on television?

  7. I am looking forward to viewing the impact and the subsequent
    commentary of the results.This is an exciting time! I live in Queensland,Australia,so will view on Nasa TV,good luck to one and all.

  8. What will happen to the Earth if you keep shooting at the moon with rockets? Known that the moon controls the way the earth works . Why waste money the people need when the economy is so bad?

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  10. I hope you'll have all the you need to develop more and more missions in the stars. We have so much questions about everything 😉

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  14. If earth atmosphere could survive 1.4 Megaton Hydrogen Explosion, Moon can survive this little bump.


  15. Or you can watch in your backyard using your telescope. Viewing opportunities are best for the Pacific Ocean and western parts of North America due to absence of light and a good view of the Moon at the time of impact. Hawaii is the best place to be, with Pacific coast states of the USA a close second. Any place west of the Mississippi River, however, is a potential observing site.

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  17. Finally, I was looking forward to your blog on the coquí! The Hawaiian wall of sound was somewhat louder than in Puerto Rican urban areas. Have never spent the night in our rain forest, El Yunque, where I imagine the amphibian cacophony might have been similar to that in the South Pacific. I still believe it has a musicality of its own, but I’m prejudiced.

    On other issues–like the use of the air conditioning and architecture in Hawaii versus Puerto Rico, I must confess that Puerto Rico is much more humid and we have become too dependant on air conditioning. We no longer build our houses in a way to take advantage of the tradewinds. The high ceilings, wooden structures are a thing of the past. That might be related to the threat of Caribbean hurricanes in Puerto Rico.
    So kudos to Hawaii for preserving their Island paradise.

  18. Suppose you are on a jury and the prosecution brings out expert witnesses in DNA analysis, finger print analysis and ballistics, all giving evidence of the defendant’s guilt, and all the defense attorney says is “Science does not appeal to authority!” You’d find his client guilty. If you think the people with expert knowledge are wrong about climate change, it is up to you to show us where they went wrong. We as a people have to make some tough choices. Do we go by the best available evidence or rely on a few contrarians and bloggers?

  19. NASA’s current plan for manned space exploration focuses on establishing a base on the moon, as a stepping stone for a visit to Mars.

  20. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is the lead US center for robotic exploration of the solar system, and conducts major programs in space-based Earth sciences.

  21. Despite a stalled space shuttle program, NASA is confident it can launch and sustain human exploration of the Moon by 2018, the space agency’s top official said Monday.

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