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Astronomy

NASA "Moon Bombing" a Hit, But LCROSS Impact Invisible?

National Geographic
9 October 2009

NASA's much anticipated LCROSS mission sent two spacecraft "bombing" into the moon early this morning. The craft successfully struck their target, a crater thought to harbor frozen water.

But the much-hyped moon show that had been expected to accompany the impact, however, turned out to be a flop-no billowing plumes of dust and ice visible through backyard telescopes or on NASA TV. The low-impact impact had one NASA expert musing that LCROSS may have struck a "dry hole."

At 7:31 a.m. ET, a 2.2-ton empty rocket shot from the LCROSS probe hit the crater Cabeus A on the moon's south pole. Four minutes later LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) performed its own kamikaze dive-the final act in its mission to detect evidence of water ice in the moon's shadowed craters.

"I can certainly report that there was an impact," LCROSS principal investigator Anthony Colaprete said at a NASA press conference this morning. "We saw the impact and we saw the crater."

When the rocket crashed into the moon, though, cameras on LCROSS registered no discernable change in the crater-at least to the untrained eye.

"It was hard to tell what we saw there," said Michael Bicay, science director at NASA Ames Research Center in California, during live coverage on NASA TV.

A closer inspection of LCROSS impact images, though, has revealed a small white speck that scientists think is the debris thrown up by the first crash, but it will take time for scientists to determine whether it is evidence of water on the moon, NASA says. (See "There's Water on the Moon, Probes Confirm.")

"I'm not going to say anything about water or no water, but we got the data that we need" to address the question, LCROSS principal investigator Colaprete said.

Read the full article at National Geographic

Visit the NASA LCROSS homepage for video of the impact.