By James Robertson, National Geographic Digital Media
One of the coolest-sounding missions launched by NASA comes to an explosive end tomorrow morning. The Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (or LCROSS) will smash into the moon at about 4:30 a.m. PST (7:30 a.m. EST), followed by another impact four minutes later. (Read the National Geographic News preview NASA Moon “Bombings” Tomorrow: Sky Show, Water Expected.)
The first stage of the LCROSS is designed to kick up a huge plume of dust in the permanently dark Cabeus crater at the south pole of the moon. The second stage contains scientific equipment to collect the dust and determine if it contains water ice, before crashing into the moon itself and causing a purely gratuitous explosion.
According to the mission’s NASA page, amateur astronomers with a 10 to 12-inch telescope should be able to see the dust plumes created by the impacts.
If you don’t have a telescope, you can watch the camera footage from the satellite and mission control at the Newseum in Washington, DC, at a special watch party on their 40-foot high video wall, at other locations around the world, or on the Internet at http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html.
You will also be able to watch video and read about the mission afterward on National Geographic News.
If water ice is found in the dust, it would confirm findings of water and hydroxyl molecules by NASA instruments aboard the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft launched about a year ago.
Disclosure: James Robertson is a consultant for the Newseum.