Monday, October 5, 2009

Ready, aim...BOOM!

NASA is taking aim at the moon and zero-hour is fast approaching.

At 7:30 a.m. EDT on Friday, a NASA-launched Atlas 5 rocket upper stage will crash into the southern hemisphere of the moon, in a crater called Cabeus followed by the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) probe it launched? Why, you might ask? What has the moon ever done to us?

Well, funnily enough, there are those out there who believe those mysterious "powers that be" who have nothing better to do but cover things up and generally do nasty things to civil liberties and aliens alike, have concocted yet another nasty plan, this time to attack the moon and its requisite alien residents. It took me about three seconds of searching to find this prime example:

For the rest of us though, it's about the science and the purpose of this particular experiment is to further confirm the existence of water on the moon.

"Why," you might ask. "Didn't they just say there was water on the moon?" Well, yes they did. However, it never hurts to confirm one observation with another. Besides, the previous methods were generally passive scanning methods. Picking up "signals" of a sort from radiation coming from the moon that tell of water. With this method, material will be "kicked up" by the impact of the two-ton upper stage, followed by the LCROSS probe itself. LCROSS will see the first impact while the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) that went up with LCROSS in June will observe the second impact. This is the same LRO that has brought us some stunningly "up close" images of the moon, including photographs of past Apollo sites, including equipment and even tracks left by the astronauts.

Sadly, we're going to miss it here in Ontario since the impact will be occurring just as the sun is coming up. However, professional and amateur telescopes out west will be pointing skyward in a hopes to catch the double plume of debris. Although the impact would theoretically be visible in backyard telescopes, it will still be relatively dim. Amateur astronomers with telescopes 10 inches across and larger are nevertheless being encouraged by NASA to aim their backyard scopes at the moon, just to see what they can see.

It just goes to show that there are still ways that amateur astronomers contribute to the science. Meanwhile, the pros will be scanning the debris cloud with spectrographs to find evidence of water molecules kicked up by the impact.

Needless to say, everyone's going to have something to talk about, come Friday afternoon. Astronomers will be chatting happily about results and what it means to possible human visitation and even colonization of the moon. Conspiracy nuts will be forewarning the coming doom of the "retaliation from the moon." I expect it to be entertaining, either way.

Clear skies!

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