So What Exactly Happened With That Crashing Moon Probe?

By Brett Israel | October 13, 2009 3:57 pm

393052main_lcross_impact_siWith much fanfare, NASA’s lunar probe smashed into the moon this past Friday in an attempt to excavate and study hypothetical traces of lunar water ice. As planned, the probe slung an empty rocket hull into a crater at the moon’s south pole. The LCROSS probe itself then followed behind the rocket hull, snapping photos and beaming them back to Earth before smashing into the very same crater. The impact appears to have gone off without a hitch, however the crash left many disappointed since the expected 6.2-mile-high cloud of dust, which was to be analyzed for traces of ice, never materialized. So far, astronomers using ground-based telescopes and the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit have not reported seeing any ejecta plume, but have cautioned that more time is needed to be sure [SPACE.com].

At a post-impact briefing, many in the press expressed concern about the mission’s success. In response, LCROSS project scientist Anthony Colaprete outlined several reasons why the impacts may not have thrown up plumes immediately visible after the impacts, including the [impact] hitting the inner walls of the crater at an angle that ejected the impact pit dust sideways instead of straight up. “Luck plays a part in this,” he said, adding. “We have the data we need to address the questions we have and that’s the bottom line” [USA Today]. The researchers also say it’s possible that the rocket hull hit bedrock instead of loose, gravelly soil as expected, and therefore kicked up only a small debris cloud that wasn’t visible to LCROSS.

The LCROSS images were supposed to be publicly available via an internet live-feed, but that also did not materialize. However, researchers note that they do have plenty of scientific data to work with: A second spacecraft, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), was able to snap thermal image photos of the impact. LRO’s thermal scanning device detected a large area of heating near the impact, which scientists are saying is significant because it can help NASA researchers determine how much water may have been present around the impact sites. While there’s still no concrete evidence that vast, exploitable ice reserves exist on the lunar south pole, the LRO photos should provide some idea of how much water might be present near the surface where the LCROSS impacts occurred [Popular Science].

Scientists are also saying that the presence of heat would have cooked any dust that was ejected from the crater, revealing its chemical make-up to the LCROSS probe. That spectroscopic data will take several weeks to analyze–so stay tuned.

Related Content:
80beats: Lunar Impact! NASA Probe Slams Into Moon to Search for Water
Bad Astronomy: LRO about to hit the Moon! (with Update)
80beats: NASA to Moon: We’re Back. Got Any Ice?

Image: NASA/GSFC/UCLA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space, Technology
MORE ABOUT: moon, NASA, solar system, water
  • Tuatara

    Should have strapped a warhead on that puppy…

  • Ave

    It kinda bothers me that NASA is more concerned about colunising the moon than they are about the economy, truthfully thats just my solid oppinion.

  • http://blog.denniswilliamson.us Dennis

    Slim Pickens woulda got the job done!

  • AdAstra

    @Ave – NASA’s mission is exploration. You appear to have confused them with the Office of Management and Budget, or perhaps the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Those agencies are concerned about the economy.

  • Person :)

    NASA is not an economic association. Its a National Aeronautics and Space Administration, so go cry to someone else about the economy.

  • Will Lyster

    It would seem to me that NASA employees and NASA’s contractors’s employees – for the most part are probably American’s that pay taxes and spend their money, further helping out our economy…

  • Person :)

    I agree, and further more if a moon base was built it might provide more jobs, money, ect. But maybe that’s a stretch.

  • Ozonator

    NASA’s LCROSS twin impacting spacecraft should pay for themselves by rewriting the history of the Moon and Earth. Impacting between the magma fields on the the visible surface of the Moon and most, if not all, of the Moon’s south pole – South Pole-Aitken basin (the largest crater in the solar system) gives a truer sampling of the Moon’s composition. The Apollo program sampled only within the magma fields at ~5% of our GDP.

  • jim

    How much did this cost? Couldn’t that money go to Red-Cross to help with the homeless? What about warm clothing for the needy? How much food could that buy?

  • Person :)

    You dont just put all your money to the needy and what have you. It’s like would you just pay one bill of your house? i think not. Plus not to be harsh or anything but we are already over populating and if everyone was healthy alive rich we would be even worse off. And we need the technology advance over other countries so were better prepared. also wat about the people working at nasa your just gonna take their jobs and funding?

  • Mel

    “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”
    People complain when they think NASA isn’t doing enough exploration and complain when it actually is.

    The agency’s _purpose_ is exploration. On top of that, look at how many beneficial technologies have come from it.

  • Ozonator

    To be fair and balanced -

    I have yet to see anyone write of the savings of the canning of ole Roy’d (and NOAA’s Chris Landsea) to advance science and save lives and money with our extremist Republicans and Christians’ version of the ”Great Leap Forward”. “Roy W. Spencer is a principal research scientist for the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. He has served as senior scientist for climate studies at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. … supporter of intelligent design[1] and is skeptical of the scientific consensus that human activity is primarily responsible for global warming. … has been referred to as the “official climatologist of the EIB Network” by Rush Limbaugh, who is the owner of the Excellence In Broadcasting network.[15]” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Spencer_(scientist)). “Story #4: A Man’s Questions to God on Global Warming … RUSH: … a role … this doesn’t describe me, but I wish to play a role now as a confused and troubled man asking his God some things.  “Please, God … My government says manmade global warming is destroying the planet you have so generously provided. … if I do not give up my car and give in to higher taxes … the world’s oceans will boil and that we will all die. … Or do you control earth’s temperatures?  Please, God, just show me a sign.” … So a question for the all-knowing, all-caring, all-sensing, all-feeling, all-concerned Maha Rushie. … Did God give us the answer to this troubled man’s question?  … Story #5: BBC: What Happened to Global Warming? … RUSH: Let’s go to the BBC, Friday, October 9th: “‘What Happened to Global Warming?’ — … which we’ve been told by our own climate specialist, Dr. Roy Spencer. … Of course, the BBC in this story felt obligated to pretend that the warmers have an answer for all this but they really don’t. … An answer from God?  … discoveries are so many and so vast, they are hard too keep up with” (“Stack of Stuff Quick Hits Page”; Rush “LABI” Limbaugh, Rush Limbaugh; rushlimbaugh.com, 10/12/09).

  • http://www.insight-consulting.us Ken

    The fact is that we MUST get off this planet. Factually speaking, all of humanities “eggs are in one basket”. In order for the species to survive, we must be able to travel to and settle (colonize) new worlds. We did it in boats hundreds of years ago (Vikings, etc) and we need to do it now with our new technology. With each step further out (starting with the moon), we’ll continue to gather new information, most of which will provide and pay huge dividends over time. So, the few dollars that we spend at this time is really a huge and strategic investment for the future of the entire world and species and must be done.

  • amphiox

    It seems that on pretty much every post on space exploration gets at least one idiot post like Ave’s. I think this must be some kind of new internet law (or maybe not so new, I haven’t been here all that long).

    To make it very, very simple for you Ave – it is not a zero-sum game. The vast majority of all economically profitable advances began as serendipitous discoveries made while pursuing pure basic research motivated by nothing other than curiosity.

    What do you think would have happened if Ferdinand and Isabella declined to fund Christopher Columbus because of cost concerns? (Which, in fact, they very nearly did) Some other European would probably still have “discovered” the New World, but the nation reaping the economic windfall would not have been Spain. Or even more apropros, look at what really happened when Ming Dynasty China chose to stop funding the voyages of Zheng He, because of economic concerns among others. (Make no mistake, the Chinese remember and are watching this closely)

    Even if it was a zero-sum game, go look up the actual budget for NASA and the actual cost of this mission, and compare it to the amount spent for one day’s worth of operations in Iraq, and then come back and tell me what policy changes would have the greatest monetary impact on the economy.

  • amphiox

    Ken, I absolutely agree. However, I must point out that getting off planet is not enough. The colonies must be made self-sufficient, or else it would still be an “eggs in one basket” situation. It does us no good if the colonies remain dependent on earth and wither away if the parent earth-based civilization gets into trouble.

    I’m guessing that the moon will not have the sufficient resources necessary for full self-sufficiency, at least not for a long time, and will probably end up serving as a stepping stone to establishing truly independent settlements elsewhere further out.

  • bob

    lol amphiox columbus was sent to america to discover it he had maps to get there. and the american economy will never recover because its being drained to fund a future for a select group of individuals.

  • Fiddler

    I look at it this way…If NASA wants to land on a planet, drill a hole and do what it needs to find extra information for our future then thats fine, but smashing into the moon is like doing the same thing in a non-populated area of the world. I may not go there, I may never have a plans to have anything to do with the area, but it’s still my Earth! and my Moon! just as much as the next person. SO, if your gonna do something without asking, or caring what the rest of us think, then you should guarantee that what you say will happen…DOES HAPPEN!!!. Cos being that thats the ONLY Moon I have, I would suggest you dont mess with something you can’t fix. The whole world will want answers and results! I WANT THEM. So you better have them!!!

  • Em

    Fiddler, look at the moon. It has tons of craters in it. Think of how often the moon has stuff smashing into it. I doubt that our lunar probe colliding with the moon is going to make that much of a difference. It’s not like we’re cutting it in half. Do you want answers and results from the entire solar system for celestial debris hitting the moon too?

  • amphiox

    #16 Bob:

    And we had maps of the moon before we got there – we made them using telescopes, and we used them to plan the Apollo missions. How does that make it “not” exploration? And what relevance does the presence or absence of maps or whatever quality have to do with Columbus’ achievements as an explorer?

    He went, he learned stuff he and his people did not know before, he came back and reported his findings. His nation (well technically the nation he worked for) learned something new because of him, and went on to get rich because of it.

    As for the American economy – never is a very very long time.

  • Swamp Angel

    What’s the temperature of the surface of the moon in sunlight? I’m pretty sure that it’s a good deal above the boiling point of water.

    Figure then, that if (1)the moon is several billion years old, (2) there is no atmosphere to refract the sun’s rays, (3) any given surface of the moon is subjected to approximately 13-1/2 days of sunlight at a time, and (4) the gravity of the moon is too weak to hold an atmosphere and therefore has no hope of holding water vapor. . . (water ice sublimes as well, so it needn’t have necessarily boiled off), it should follow through simple reasoning that there is NO WATER ON THE MOON!

    I’m with Ave on this one. It’s a colossal waste of tax payers’ money to look for water on the moon by bombarding it with rocket parts in the hopes of kicking up some dust. That being said, I wonder if that was simply the “cover story” NASA was giving when in actuality they may have been looking for something else. Goodness knows that the average American has neither the sense nor the education to think critically. Not to mention that there is little enough true science being taught in government schools for the majority of folks to think this one through.

    So what, then, is NASA really up to?

  • Ozonator

    Poor Swamp Angel;

    Your logic is also applicable to Mars. But, Mars is looking more like the mother of all comets with the ice just under the surface. Heck of a job with those 3 Rs.

  • Dan

    The US has a long history of spending billions upon billions testing and developing new technologies, only to have those same designs duplicated and perhaps improved upon by other countries once the information is declassified and the designs seen by other governments. This isnt a criticism of other govs, its just the way it is.

    The future of humanity is in space, and a discovery on the moon is quite possibly the type of thing that will drive every rival space agency and economy into a new race. I think its a bit naive to assume that NASA is going to so casually announce its findings to the public. If theres something up there to be had, you can be sure the US will take steps to make sure it will get there first, including delaying and downplaying any info it may have acquired.

  • Naja Lindberg

    I think it is important for NASA to do these high profile projects close to home. Inspiring us to think about what is out there and how it relates to human life. As a lay person I was excited to watch. It was an emotional morning, and I found few people that day who had even heard about the event. I am more concerned about the future roll of science in our cultural lives than the economy. I can pinch a penny on my own, but I need help with the abstract ideas and larger math concepts that enrich my personal experiences in the world.

  • Swamp Angel

    Ozonator,

    Pretty much the only thing the moon and Mars have in common is their age. Unlike the moon, Mars has sufficient mass to have a gravitational force strong enough to hold an atmosphere, and thus water vapor. I’m also pretty sure that the days on Mars are less than 13-1/2 of our typical 24-hour days here on the earth. And the temperature on Mars doesn’t exceed the boiling point of water.

    No, the conditions on Mars and on the moon are quite different, and while my logic truly does apply equally to both, the arguments are necessarily different.

    ( And my faith in the American educational system remains to be strengthened, although there are some good astronomy classes available at public universities that will provide much knowledge for a diligent and worthy student.)

  • Ozonator

    Sw-angle;

    Where to start.

    Theoretically, the Moon and Mars are intimately related. By your logic, Mercury should enjoy an atmosphere and thus should not be boiling, comets passing close to the Sun also should be boiled into oblivion lacking mass, the boiling ground and clouds of Venus should have turned the planet into a dust storm with atmosphere lost to solar flares (nineplanets.org/venus.html), and the mass of the Sun should be surrounded by a cloud of water vapor due to it’s mass. “Temperature variations on Mercury are the most extreme in the solar system ranging from 90 K to 700 K. The temperature on Venus is slightly hotter but very stable” (nineplanets.org/mercury.html). The magnetic field on Mars exists in pockets where Venus has none. Yet, some atmosphere is on Mars and lot on Venus through replenishment from significant underground volatiles. Venus, Mars, Mercury, and the Moon should not have any atmosphere due to CMEs washing them away. For examples, a small CME (coronal mass ejection) starts from an arc, filament, or jet off the western limb of the Sun on 2009/10/12 04:42 that is quickly ejected on 11:18 – toward Mars, Mercury, or Venus – (“THE SUN NOW” – “LASCO C3”; sohodata.nascom.nasa.gov) (planets by fourmilab.ch, 2009-10-12). And, a large CME (coronal mass ejection) starts from the western limb of the Sun on 2009/10/14 06:18 that is quickly ejected – toward Mars, Mercury, or Venus – (“THE SUN NOW” – “LASCO C3”; sohodata.nascom.nasa.gov) (planets by fourmilab.ch, 2009-10-12). Thus, significant volatiles exist under Mars, Venus, within comets, and within our star. Theoretically, with both intimately related to Mars, the Moon was squeezed dry and Mercury was baked dry.

  • Ozonator

    With thanks to blogs.discovermagazine.com for helping to advance the lunar portion of my model:

    “Ozonator Says: October 15th, 2009 at 7:11 pm … Moon was squeezed dry”

    several hours later – “Like a big sponge, moon absorbs charged particles to produce water” (Divya Gandhi; hindu.com, 10/17/09).

  • bansidog

    Richard C. Hogueland just deciphered the results and reasons of this experiment. With Obama publicly admitting his interest in astronomy, and the Kennedy style commitments to space exploration, it is most likely probable that we are in for a big announcement regarding the moon. The discovery of structures and the idea of life on the moon exists, will gain popularity amongst ppl and main stream media. A new mission for the discovery and imminent disclosure of information shall grant NASA a huge increase in funds from government and will not be challenged by the public. This will all set us up for the revelation of other beings from other places/planets. The element found on the moon was not water initially, but sodium. Sodium is created as an after product of ‘manmade’ crafts, buildings and other engineered objects (as well as many other ways). But with the discovery of sodium in the moon plume, it contradicts the official story of how the moon became in the first place…..

    Be prepared….the signs are clear….the answer is up there….keep looking….

  • Ozonator

    The sodium flares from the Sun and the sodium chloride in the oceans are the predominant, naturally occurring examples in the solar system including the Moon. At best in a hospice program, Hoagland is only an expert in making 99.9% of an unlucky audience feel that a minute is a year and a few hours is the rest of their lives.

  • -Ron Noonan

    #19 Amphiox
    Just to correct your history- 1. Surveyor One crashed into the moon to help us learn about atmosphere and orbiting potentials as well
    2. Lunar orbitor 1 circled the moon and sent us electronic strips of photography that had to be assembled by hand. These photographs provided Stereoscopic vision so we could map the topography of the moon for possible landing sites. The photogrammetrists mapped the three dimensional features (which could not be done from a telescope with any accuracy). The possible landing sites were picked this way to insure safe landing sites. To make a note of interest! Most scientists believed (as highly recognized scientists) that a landing could not be accomplished on the moon “because they would definately sink into the sand and be covered up’)[ lol] I think they are now the experts claiming we are responsible for global warming! PS: Ron Noonan-Certified Photogrammetrist-Ret ( I worked on some of the orbitor photography and surveyor one)-check out jobs for photogrammetry to see what we do for a living [lol]

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