Missing Lunar Plume Found on Film

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 18, 2009 – 10:30 am -

The extent of the plume at 15 sec is approximately 6-8 km in diameter.

The extent of the plume at 15 sec is approximately 6-8 km in diameter.

After last week’s NASA public relations fizzle, when their lunar probe didn’t appear to produce any visible signs of a much touted plume rising into space, it seems they have been partially vindicated.

According to the agency’s news announcement on Friday, the trailing LCROSS probe did in fact snap photos of the resulting impact explosion by its booster rocket when it hit the moon.

The crash created a crater about one-fifth the size of a football field inside the shadowy bottom of a 98 km wide crater near the south pole last week. Mission scientists are not yet ready to say what the plume was made of but space buffs are hoping that it was filled with water.

Read more on the incoming results on LCROSS mission’s website.

Editor’s note: Take a peek at my latest Weather Network – Night Sky show video on the left-side bar or on the Videos page.  Also check out the new scrolling Sky Calendar on the left-sidebar that gives a brief heads-up on the major astronomical events for the coming weeks. With plenty of notice, never miss another big sky event again!

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Posted in Solar System, Space Exploration, The Moon | 39 Comments »

Death Dive to the Moon this Friday

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 6, 2009 – 11:46 am -

Amateur and professional stargazers are anxiously awaiting this Friday morning’s kamikaze dive of two NASA rockets, part of the LCROSS mission, on the surface of the Moon. The hope is that the resulting impact in a 98 km wide crater near the south pole will create a visible water-rich debris cloud that will rise more than 10 km into space. The thinking by scientists is that there may be a large reservoir of water-ice sitting at the bottom of a deep, internally shadowed, crater called Cabeus. By punching a hole into that crater floor, it would kick up a bunch of that ice out into space for lunar orbiters to analyze. About 10 hours before the lunar smash up the LCROSS probe will separate from its 12 meter long Centaur booster rocket.  This 2200 kg booster will be the first to impact and may throw up over 300 tonnes of lunar dust. The 700 kg probe will be right behind the rocket so it will be getting an up close and personal view of the impact- sending back, sure to be, amazing snapshots, before it too smashes into the moon 4 minutes later at 7:34 am EDT.

landmasses facing Moon at impact time

landmasses facing Moon at impact time

The hope also is that the impact and plume might be visible with telescopes here on Earth and in orbit. A fleet of professional observatories will be trained on the impact site on Friday morning at 4:30 am Pacific time/ 7:30 am Eastern Time for the first impact, but so will backyard astronomers with their telescopes. There is a real chance that stargazers with medium sized scopes, about 10 to 12 inches, may be able to witness first hand the explosion on the Moon, and the resulting expanding, ring-like plume that will rise up. Best chances to see this event will be for observers located west of Manitoba and west of the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean region. Unfortunately folks on the eastern side of the continent will have daybreak blinding them.  If you are lucky enough to have the right instruments and are in the right location then you can be part of the mission and help scientists analyze this event by contributing your valuable observations. 

Here is a great viewer’s guide called ‘Citizen Science – a Public Observing Campaign’ prepared by NASA on how you can contribute to the science behind this unique and exciting event.  Also check out a detailed information guide (PDF file) to the timing and location of the impact.

Photo Credit - NMSU / MSFC Tortugas Observatory.

Click to enlarge; Photo Credit - NMSU / MSFC Tortugas Observatory.

But don’t fret if you are not able to watch the impact through a telescope yourself, because there will be LIVE broadcast of the event put on by NASA and observatories showing the latest video and photos beamed back from telescopes on the ground and in space. There will even be cameras aboard lunar orbiters only a few hundred km above the Moon that should have ring-side seats to the show. Stay tuned to my blog for the LIVE broadcast video. So mark down Friday 7:30 am EDT/4:30 am PDT on your calendars and stay tuned…

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Posted in Solar System, Space Exploration, The Moon | 17 Comments »

Smashing Success on the Moon

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 11, 2009 – 9:39 am -

Reports are coming in this morning that Australia’s Anglo-Australian Observatory with its 3.9 meter telescope successfully detected a brief flash in the shadowy area of the Moon yesterday exactly when and where the Japanese probe, Kayuga was supposed to impact at 6 000 km per hour.  From the photos it looks like that the impact flash was quite weak and probably too faint for amateurs to see it- but folks are waiting to hear if any reports do come in – so stay tuned. The question being asked in the blogosphere this week however, has been why did the Japanese decide to terminate the mission yesterday on a part of the moon that is so awkward for observers to find and when the moon was near full phase which makes its glare so blinding that it would be hard for anyone to see the show? You kind of wonder if the space agency really consider the true scientific and PR value properly when making their decisions. Hopefully NASA’s efforts in October with their LCROSS mission will be better planned. Anyway, check out the preliminary photo series of Kayuga impact from the giant observatory below- it’s pretty cool. That little dot in the dark area on the second frame is the explosion of the spacecraft on the lunar surface.

University of New South Wales/Anglo-Australian Observatory (J. Bailey and S. Lee)

University of New South Wales/Anglo-Australian Observatory (J. Bailey and S. Lee)

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Posted in Satellites, Solar System, Space Exploration, The Moon | 5 Comments »

Moon Crash Alert!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 9, 2009 – 8:13 pm -

The web is abuzz with anticipation of the impending doom of the Japanese lunar probe, Kaguya. After a 2 years of conducting science in orbit, it is expected to take a suicide plunge into the lunar surface tomorrow, Wednesday around midday for us in North America.  While skywatchers on this continent will be out of luck to see any potential flash and spray of lunar dust, folks in Asia will we well placed. The impact is supposed to happen on the lower right limb of the disk of the moon. For more info check out the mission website and a Lunar Impact alert page.

Later this year there will be an even better opportunity for North Americans to see a potential after effect from an satellite impact when NASA’s own lunar mission LCROSS probe (launching next week) will send impactors into a polar crater sometime in October. Sky and Telescope reports that this event may be within the reach of backyard telescopes 10 inches and bigger.

Posted in Solar System, Space Exploration, The Moon | 85 Comments »