Oct 9, 2009

LCROSS fact and fiction

In my science fiction ghost story, Moon Hammer, I imagined that there were high resolution images of the LCROSS impact site. However, what I imagined went far beyond the quality of images shown by NASA immediately after the impacts.

As shown in these images from NASA (to right), the visible light camera that they flew into the surface of the Moon today was not very sophisticated (FAR, CLOSER, CLOSEST). The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been releasing images of Apollo moon landers, but those images do not have the type of spatial resolution that I imagined for my story: images good enough to show bodies on the surface of the Moon. Additionally, the LCROSS mission targeted a location on the Moon that is thought to have remained in shadow for a long period of time. The cold environment of the shadows might have accumulated and retained water ice. However, such a shadowy location is not a good bet for high resolution visible light imaging. In the video below, they switch to infrared imaging just before impact into the shadowed region of the Cabeus crater. You can hear them say that "very small" craters are then seen within the Cabeus crater rim shadow (5:25 of video) just before impact of the instrument platform.

The main mission goal for LACROSS is detection of water in the debris plume ejected by the rocket booster's impact (the first of the two impacts) into the surface of the Moon. Preliminary data indicate that NASA was able to detect (infrared camera image inset labeled "IR") a flash due to the Centaur booster's impact and what seems to be the newly created crater at the impact site ("Centaur crater", see images, above right). Most importantly, the spectroscope apparently detected a signal (the little blip in the graph) that upon analysis may allow for detection of water.

Images from other points of observation, including the Hubble Space Telescope, are expected later today. Results from LCROSS spectroscopy data analysis (search for water) might be reported in two weeks.

Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society provided a nice summary of the LCROSSS images from NASA
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter detects heat signature of LCROSS impact
Hubble - initial results of water spectroscopy were reported to be negative.
Kitt Peak, Arizona, "observers recorded a flare of light at the orange sodium-emission wavelength."
Palomar Observatory does not detect ejecta plume

Images. These are all images from NASA.

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