NASA's always trying to push the envelope, and tomorrow the space agency's got a really big push: It's going to bomb the Moon. Seriously, and it's all in the name of science, the search for water, and space exploration.
If you're up at 7:31 a.m. EST (4:31 a.m. Pacific) tomorrow, cast your eyes skywards to the moon. You probably won't see anything with the naked eye (you'll need a 10-inch telescope) but right at that moment, thanks to some careful planning, the upper stage of the Atlas 5 rocket the propelled the Lunar Crater Observing and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) to the moon will smack right into a crater called Cabeus. Four minutes later, LCROSS itself will meet the same fate. If that's not exciting enough for you, they'll be traveling at over five and a half thousand miles an hour when they hit. That's going to result in what we scientists call a pretty big bang.
All this is genuinely important--NASA's teams hope the kinetic impacts will throw up a plume of lunar soil far into the skies over the surface, and that among the debris will be water--NASA's going to have a bunch of instruments on LCROSS and elsewhere examining the events, looking for H2O's telltale signature.
Why do we care about water on the moon? For a whole bunch of reasons that concern our expansion of robotic and human exploration of the solar system. Lunar water would greatly simplify efforts to establish a base on the moon, and could be useful for storing energy through fuel-cells and for providing oxygen for lunar explorers.
Scientists are pretty certain they've detected plenty of water there already, but tomorrow's impact could provide definitive evidence--and enable a precise measure of the concentration of water in the soil. But is that justification for bombarding a heavenly body? A video on CNN shows people objecting to the effort:
This isn't the first time that deliberate impacts have been carried out. Back in 1999. NASA tried something similar with the end-of-life Lunar Prospector spacecraft, but didn't detect any water in the debris plume. And in 2003, the Galileo spacecraft was sent sailing to destruction in Jupiter's clouds--quite deliberately to prevent a future accidental impact with the Jovian moon of Europa. In this case it was to prevent contamination of the moon Europa, where many exobiologists suspect life can be found. No life signs are expected from tomorrow's moon impact, of course. But it's still pretty exciting. NASA's got a guide to the event available here--and you can even follow LCROSS's Twitter feed.
[via the Orando Sentinel]