On June 29, 2009, as part of the LCROSS Observation Campaign, Paul Mortfield, an avid amateur astronomer and frequent contributer to NASA missions, took a series of images of the LCROSS Shepherding Spacecraft and Centaur as they passed through the night sky. LCROSS is currently orbiting the Earth-moon system on its 5,592,000 mile (9,000,000 km) journey to the moon.
Capturing these images is no easy feat. The spacecraft is only 47 feet (14.5 m) long with a diameter of 10 feet (3 m). At the time of the images were taken, the spacecraft was approximately 288,100 miles (463,700 km) from Earth, traveling at a speed of 0.58 miles/sec (0.94 km/s).
The images were taken with an Apogee U16M 4Kx4K CCD Camera attached to a Ritchey-Chretian 16″f/8.9 telescope and a focal length of 3,530 mm. The image scale is 1.04 arcsec/pixel and the frames were binned 2×2. Each exposure was 60 sec in length to show enough trailing of the spacecraft.
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Paul Mortfield here at Kennedy Space Center anxiously waiting to see my first launch. I’m with the David Dunlap Observatory just outside Toronto, Canada. The observatory’s 74″ telescope will be participating in the LCROSS NASA observation network for this mission. We’re excited to have Canada’s largest telescope participating and helping the NASA team.
We just finished doing the LCROSS webcast at Kennedy talking about all the exciting things amateur astronomers and backyard skygazers can do to participate in this NASA mission back to the moon. Amateurs across North America have already been taking images of the polar regions of the moon to help characterize the region near the potential impact sites.
We’re looking for many amateurs to photograph the impact plume to help the scientists further characterize it and compare the images with their observations from the huge telescopes in Hawaii. This is truly an exciting time and a beginning of new era of amateurs participating with NASA missions.
Photo of the David Dunlap Observatory outside Toronto, Canada. Image: Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn