At approximately 13:30 South African time (this afternoon, Friday 9 October 2009), a crater on the lunar South Pole on our moon will be struck twice, --- first by a rocket, and then four minutes later by a NASA spacecraft. The main mission objective is to confirm the presence or absence of water on the moon.
The mission began on 18 June 2009 when LCROSS launched with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA. The NASA contraptions executed a fly-by of the moon on 23 June 2009 and entered into an elongated Earth orbit to position LCROSS for impact on a lunar pole. On final approach, the contraption which consists of two parts called the shepherding spacecraft and Centaur (rocket), will separate. The Centaur will act as a heavy impactor to create a debris plume that will rise above the lunar surface. Following four minutes behind, the shepherding spacecraft will fly through the debris plume, collecting and relaying data back to Earth before impacting the lunar surface and creating a second debris plume.
The debris plumes are expected to be visible from Earth and space-based telescopes 10 to 12 inches and larger, but with South Africa being in daylight at the time of impact, I doubt whether we’ll be able to observe anything spectacular.
This mission isn't NASA's first impact on the moon. Apollo 14's Saturn IV-B booster was intentionally impacted into the moon on 14 February 1971, causing vibrations that scientists used to learn about the moon's interior structure.
Visit the NASA Website for more info.
Visit www.nasa.gov/lcross for the latest news and where to watch the impact online.
Picture Credit: NASA - Artist's rendering of the LCROSS spacecraft and Centaur separation.