Friday, February 13, 2009

UA telescope to monitor moon impact

Astronomers will use the powerful University of Arizona/Smithsonian MMT Observatory on Mount Hopkins, Arizona, to search for lunar water ice when NASA fires a 2-ton rocket into a polar crater on the moon later this year, at a speed of 5,600 mph. The resulting crater will be a few tens of feet wide and up to 10 feet deep. [right, the 21-foot diameter MMT Observatory. Credit, Howard Lester, MMTO]

Instruments aboard the shepherding spacecraft are designed to search for evidence of water ice on the moon as the rocket collides with a permanently shadowed crater near one of the moon's poles. [right bottom, an artist's illustration shows the LCROSS mission shepherding a satellite releasing its SUV-sized rocket toward the moon. Credit, NASA]

Impact debris plumes should reach 30 miles high and will be visible from Earth with telescopes as small as 10 to 12 inches in diameter. The cameras will take images at 1/100th of a second, so they expect to see the plume as it builds and expands through time at high resolution.

[much of this post is taken from the UA press release]

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