October 19, 2009

NASA Photo Shows Mile-High Plume From Crater Impact

New images released over the weekend show a mile-high plume of debris after NASA's Centaur rocket struck the Cabeus crater.

Scientists say this event has brought forth some useful data.

In Friday's report from the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, the mission's chief scientist Anthony Colaprete says, "We were blown away by the data returned. The team is working hard on the analysis, and the data appears to be of very high quality."

Before the rocket struck the crater, many observers said they were disappointed at the lack of spectacle.

But scientists say the mission wasn't carried out for the entertainment of the public, it was for "a scientific purpose," said Alan Stern, a former NASA associate administrator for science.

By creating the cloud of debris, scientists were able to use the $79-million Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite to sample and study the dust.

Four minutes after Centaur impacted the crater, LCROSS crashed into it while it's companion spacecraft, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, was flying in orbit 50 miles (80 kilometers) above the site to gather more data.

Michio Kaku, professor at the City College of New York, told The Associated Press on Saturday, "To be a spectacular success, we had to find large quantities of underground ice." He said NASA may be jumping the gun in calling the outcome "a smashing success," acting on response to the public criticism of the mission.

"They got beautiful pictures of the event, but that's not why we spent $79 million," Kaku said. "Ice on the moon is more valuable than gold."

Brown University geologist and LCROSS scientist Peter Schultz told the AP that the crash created a man-made crater about one-fifth the size of a football field.

The temperature of the flash created by the crash and other details will help scientists find out what the plume contained but Colaprete said it was too early to tell.

Finding significant amounts of water on the moon would be a major discovery, making eventual colonization easier than it would be if settlers had to transport water from Earth.


Image 2: Shown is the result of three co-added, stretched LCROSS Visible Light Camera images taken shortly after impact (with 15 seconds following impact). The extent of the plume at 15 sec is approximately 6-8 km in diameter. Credit: NASA

Image 3: Zoomed in image of the impact plume. The extent of the plume at 15 sec is approximately 6-8 km in diameter. Credit: NASA


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