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NASA moon impact deemed success; no debris plume seen by astronomers

Last Friday, NASA scientists sent a two-ton hunk of metal barreling toward the moon's surface in an attempt to find lunar ice. But the spectacle of such destruction was not seen by onlookers.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor on

NASA may be in an industry that's larger than life, but when it comes to producing blockbusters, the agency's success is in the eye of the beholder.

Last Friday, NASA scientists sent a two-ton hunk of metal barreling toward the moon's surface in an attempt to find lunar ice.

But the spectacle of such destruction was not seen by onlookers.

Deep Impact it was not, at least from Earth's vantage point.

Though the millions watching outside Ames Research Center and on television saw no plume of debris from the impact, which occurred at 4:31 a.m. on a boulder at the moon's south pole, NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission was deemed a great success by scientists.

NASA officials confirmed that the Centaur rocket made a crater of more than 60 feet in diameter on impact. They said spectrometer data recorded a "flash" upon impact that researchers investigating.

"We just don't know right now what we saw entirely," said Tony Colaprete, the mission's project scientist, to the L.A. Times. "We got spectrometer data, and that's what really matters."

NASA scientists are analyzing spectroscopic changes detected around the impact site to determine whether water was present. Using spectrometers, the scientists will break down the light from the collision to reveal chemical compounds that may be in the plume of debris from the impact.

It could take months to comb through the collected data, but the hope is that the large quantities of hydrogen at the moon's south pole, found by the Lunar Prospector in 1998, do in fact signal the presence of water.

Meanwhile, National Geographic asks: Are lunar crashes worth the damage?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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