NASA's LCROSS mission, in which it launched spacecraft into the moon's surface to shake up debris in the search for signs of water, was hardly the visual spectacle that the agency promised last week. But new satellite thermal images give insight into what the scientists were aiming to do.
The mission was arranged so that an empty Centaur rocket stage impacted the crater Cabeus to send a up a cloud of surface debris into the sunlight. The LCROSS spacecraft, following behind the rocket, was supposed to take spectroscopic photos of the plume and beam them to Earth before cratering into the lunar surface itself.
The good news: the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, orbiting just 50 miles above the moon's surface, managed to snap thermal images of the impact sites 90 seconds after the crash occurred.
Diviner, the LRO's thermal scanner, detected impact sites with all four of its mapping channels -- important in determining water presence at the sites.
The thermal signature of the impact was clearly detected in all four Diviner thermal mapping channels. Since the LCROSS impact feature is predicted to be significantly smaller than a Diviner footprint, its detection is consistent with the notion that the LCROSS impact resulted in significant local heating of the lunar surface.
Scientists expect to offer more details soon.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com