The Moon is my favorite object and place in the Universe. I have been captured by its' beauty and potential utility for the human race for many decades. I grew up during Apollo and participated in several amateur lunar observing projects back in the late 60's. It remains my favorite observing and photography object.
In June 2009 I wrote a feature article for Sky and Telescope Magazine on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission that was launched that month to the Moon. This two-for-one mission was unique in that two separate spacecraft were launched with the same launch vehicle, an Atlas V, and were headed for the same destination - the Moon.
LCROSS was designed to shepherd the spent Centaur upper stage to the Moon and direct it to slam into a pre-selected lunar crater at one of the lunar poles. The idea was to kick up enough lunar regolith (soil) from deep within the perpetual darkness crater so that the tell tale presence of water could be detected by the shepherding spacecraft and LRO.
LCROSS & the spent Centaur Stage
The impact took place as designed in Cabeus Crater located at the South Lunar Pole on October 9th, 2009. A great amount of data as well as photographs of the impact were obtained and have been studied for the past year.
Today the first science results were shared with the public and they are impressive. These results are featured in six papers to be published in the Oct. 22 issue of Science. Besides the presence of water in the impact plume - approximately 40 gallons - NASA reported that, "The suite of LCROSS and LRO instruments determined as much as 20 percent of the material kicked up by the LCROSS impact was volatiles, including methane, ammonia, hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide."
NASA went on to state, "The instruments also discovered relatively large amounts of light metals such as sodium, mercury and possibly even silver. According to the scientists, these volatile chemical by-products are also evidence of a cycle through which water ice reacts with lunar soil grains."
Guess what, Space Placers. These are the same volatiles that help make up the composition of comets and asteroids!
We have known for some time about asteroid and comet impacts and the resulting formation of craters as a result. The LRO/LCROSS mission results however, confirm that the byproducts of these impacts have been stored deep within a lunar pole crater and probably others that have never seen the light of the Sun and are the coldest places in the solar system.
I had the privilege of interviewing the scientists and engineers who built, flew and acquired the data from the LRO/LCROSS missions. I got to see the spacecraft being built and was with 1-inch of the magnificent machines that were going to where I so wish I could go - the Moon. Iwas an experience I shall never forget and always cherish.
Read More About It: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2010/21oct_lcross2/
LRO Web Site: http://www.nasa.gov/lro
I'll have more on this in the coming days. Look at the Moon tonight and think of what the giant impacts must have looked like from Earth - wow - what a sight they must have been!
Sky Guy In VA