Lunar Impact! NASA Probe Slams Into Moon to Search for Water

By Eliza Strickland | October 9, 2009 10:19 am

LCROSS-shotNASA successfully crashed two objects into the moon early this morning, in an attempt to kick up the dust so it could be checked for traces of water ice. At 7:31 a.m. EST, an empty rocket hull plummeted towards the surface at 1.5 miles per second and plowed into a crater near the moon’s south pole, where it was expected to create a mini-crater half the size of an Olympic swimming pool. It was trailed by the LCROSS probe, which was supposed to take pictures of the first impact, fly through the dust plume, and then crash into the moon itself. According to early reports, the whole procedure went fine–except for one of the flashier details.

The live feed of images that LCROSS was supposed to beam back to Earth–and that earthlings were waiting for with baited breath–didn’t arrive on schedule. Screens got fuzz and no immediate pictures of the crash or the six-mile plume of lunar dust that the mission was all about. NASA officials said their instruments were working, but the planned live photos were missing…. People who got up before dawn to look for the crash at Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory threw confused looks at each other instead. Telescope demonstrator Jim Mahon called the celestial show “anticlimactic” [AP].

Despite the visual fizzle, scientists said the instruments on the spacecraft did detect a signature from the plume, which they interpreted as a good sign. Finding water on the moon would be as valuable as a gold mine, according to scientists, because it would mean that future lunar colonists would not have to transport it from Earth, at a cost of $50,000 a pound. But scientists said it could be days or even weeks before they have a definitive answer [Los Angeles Times].

The impactor targeted a permanently shadowed crater near the lunar south pole in hopes that it would contain ice that had been deposited by past comet strikes. But there may be another source of water on the moon. Earlier this month, surprised researchers reported that several spacecraft had detected the hydrogen signature for water all across the lunar surface, which may be produced in the top millimeters of soil when hydrogen particles in the solar wind interact with oxygen in the soil.

Related Content:
Bad Astronomy: LRO about to hit the moon!
Bad Astronomy: Change of address for LCROSS
80beats: Solar Protons + Lunar Dust = Lots of Water on the Moon
80beats: NASA to Moon: We’re Back. Got Any Ice?

Image: NASA

MORE ABOUT: moon, NASA, water
  • Tim J

    What size is “half an Olympic swimming pool”? Can’t we be told real units? “A crater x metres wide and y metres deep” is visualisable, but I haven’t the least idea what volume an olympic swimming pool is.

  • MasterZap

    It’s twice the size of a quarter of an olympic swimming pool.


  • Mick Nelson

    An olympic swimming pool is 50 meters long x 25 meters wide and 9′ deep

  • BeRealistic

    Millions of people out of work and we’re wasting money on this? This project could have waited until the economy was fully recovered. Thousands homeless because of this economy, cold, hungry, and with little hope of finding work to feed their family; but they can rest easy because we will soon know if there’s water ice on the moon! What a WASTE!!!

  • SOBEit

    water ice? I suddenly crave a 7/11 slushie.

  • Casey K

    BeRealistic, this is… um. You do know this is Discover’s website, right?

    At any rate, your mis-informed claims that the paltry sum (when compared to almost anything else the US does, such as foreign conflicts) NASA uses to advance scientific understanding of the universe is somehow leaving mouths empty and people unhealthy are somewhat silly given any number of true wastes the government has decided to bankroll. You also seem to forget that this spending is also keeping many people at work- from the planning stages to the control room to the construction yard.

  • PNgaia

    If USA hasn’t found the Moon lately, times are, others will .. Try they may, but they’re giving it a go. Wake up NASA, Gold toted on a donkey.

  • PNgaia

    Casey, in Reply..

    Reality is part and parcel, science on the run.. Yea Casey. Australia , HAD a Gov. that stopped all bloody funding, to the sciences,arts,teaching, apprentices,.. we need, like you. Astronomy was seen as, um,not good for economics.. WTf, There has to be an idiot graph.. Make one Casey,(Don’t name it after me)).. Cynical old fartss, we men become. Cheers, Good Luck

  • Dutchie

    Crisis? You make it sound like it was an accidental unmeant occurance. You make it sound like a natural disaster, like the aftermath of a meteor hit. Bankers are just slowly cashing in again, it’s what they do. If you disagree, well here’s some flu vaccine for you Sir.

    Oh, the USEFUL research I would conduct with a mere few million$, to bring the world multiples better fuel economy for cars and industry. Heat costs reduction for our houses, edutcation to make sure our kids are less backwards than us, rather than the policy ensuring the opposite…

  • Jesse

    Why should people so short sighted that they cannot even realize the potential water on the moon carries? Our economy may be bad now, but these scientific experiments are just the begeining. Think of the thousands of jobs that could be created from building a permanant lunar base! You want to stop the monitary hemmoraging? Lets put down the guns, stop killing eachother, and put the money we would have spent into finding a new fuel….. or even (gasps) cold fusion. There’s someting nobody’s spoke about in a while. It seems like humanity has given up trying to better itself and is now concentrating on squeezing every last drop of blood out of itself. I regret to say that I do not like the world we are handing our children…. oh by the way, where’s my jet pack?

  • Dave

    Berealistic needs to be realistic. THe space programme has created more new technologies and wealth per $ spent than even the weapons industry.

  • tOM Trottier

    The money for this was all spent on employing people and generating profits for corporations and inverstors. Some may object that this does not benefit the dumb poor. Well, given NASA’s foul-ups in the past, it could be argued that it does benefit some of the dumb rich or middle class, who might otherwise be poor.


  • bluxon

    one question…

    if we are still receiving photo transmissions from voyager 1 sent in !!!1977!!! from MILLIONS of miles away from the earth, WHY IS IT that 30 years later with 100’s of millions of dollars, our HUGE leaps in technology and from a distance of ONLY 200,000 miles away from the earth do the cameras on the second probe go dead at the EXACT time of impact?

    i really don’t think the cameras ‘failed’ – is there something that we’re not allowed to see or know?

    secret weapons test? they found gold not water? aliens jammed the radio?

  • kimberlt

    How Much Does This Project Cost ?
    It Seems So Much To Do ; & It Seems Pricy ?

  • Johnny B Good

    I can only laugh at the irony of having people complaining about the cost of the Space program while using a personal computer that pretty much owe its mere existence to this same Space program. Go fig…

  • oldguy

    Wow, how things have changed since we first went to the moon. We were all excited and proud. You lot sound uninterested and uneducated. Maybe if we spent more time building and trying to accomplish something and less time asking for handouts, we could still be a little proud of our accomplishments. From experience, I am sure that this moon mission cost a fraction of earlier programs. And, that is partially responsible for some of the failures that occur – trying to do everything on the cheap. It is a trade-off, but an advancement if it works. In the meantime, you naysayers go back to twitter and share your momentous accomplishments of the day.

  • Kathryn@ Real Estate Vancouver

    At an equivalent cost of $50,000 per pound it does seem to make sense to find lunar water rather than transport it from the earth. Boy, what would the ancient mariners think of people drinking such a liquid!


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