Astronomers Will Train Big MMT Telescope on Moon During 2009 Impact

Feb 06, 2009 By Lori Stiles
LCROSS mission
An artist's illustration shows the LCROSS mission shepherding a satellite releasing its SUV-sized rocket toward the moon. (Credit: NASA)

(PhysOrg.com) -- Astronomers will use the powerful University of Arizona/Smithsonian MMT Observatory on Mount Hopkins, Ariz., to search for lunar water ice when NASA fires a 2-ton rocket into a polar crater on the moon later this year.

Water is a crucial resource on the moon because it would not be practical to transport to space the amount of water needed for human and exploration needs.

NASA selected a team of MMT Observatory and UA Steward Observatory astronomers as one of four ground-based telescope teams to observe the moon on impact with its Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission, known as LCROSS, in August or later.

The LCROSS mission is a small companion mission to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral in spring 2009. LCROSS will separate from the lunar orbiter soon after launch.

Astronomers Will Train Big MMT Telescope on Moon During 2009 Impact
The 21-foot diameter MMT Observatory on Mount Hopkins, Ariz. (Credit: Howard Lester, MMTO)

The piggybacking LCROSS mission consists of a shepherding spacecraft and a rocket weighing as much as a large SUV that will hit the moon at about 5,600 mph, excavating a crater about a third as wide as a football field and about as deep as the deep end of a swimming pool.

Instruments aboard the shepherding spacecraft are designed to search for evidence of water ice on the moon as the rocket collides with a permanently shadowed crater near one of the moon's poles.

Researchers predict that impact debris plumes reaching 30 miles high will be visible from Earth with telescopes as small as 10 to 12 inches in diameter.

At more than 20 times larger, the 6.5-meter (21-foot) MMTO telescope "is well-suited to addressing the first LCROSS mission science goal: Confirm the presence or absence of water ice in a permanently shadowed region on the moon," MMTO director and project team leader Faith Vilas said.

Vilas and co-investigators Donald McCarthy Jr., of the UA Steward Observatory, MMTO staff astronomer Morag Hastie, and MMTO principal engineer Shawn Callahan will use state-of-the-art instruments to observe the expanding debris plume concurrently at three different wavelengths.

They'll use an infrared camera and an infrared spectrograph in the "ARIES," an instrument that McCarthy developed, to take images and spectra to follow the shape and growth of the developing plume as well as probe for the presence of "phyllosilicates," or clays formed by the interaction of water with rocks.

"If we get the signature for phyllosilicates, then we've got a pretty firm indication that there's been water there," Vilas said.

ARIES also has a second detector that will take images of the plume at slightly shorter infrared wavelengths.

And the team will use a beamsplitter so they can also use a third camera to image the expanding plume in visible light.

"The cameras will take images at 1/100th of a second, so we'll see the plume as it builds and expands through time at high resolution," Vilas said.

Debris plume size and shape is governed by water vapor in the ejecta, she said.

If NASA launches the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in spring as scheduled, the LCROSS spacecraft will be fired in August to hit the moon's north pole, Vilas said.

August is southern Arizona's monsoon season, so there's some risk of being clouded out.

If launch is delayed, then the LCROSS spacecraft will be fired later to hit the moon's south pole in September or October, Vilas added.

Vilas, McCarthy, Hastie and Callahan will check out their observing instruments and strategy at the MMTO during a night's observing this spring.

The MMTO is located at an altitude of 8,550 feet on the summit of Mount Hopkins, the second highest peak in the Santa Rita Range of the Coronado National Forest, about 30 miles south of Tucson.

Provided by University of Arizona

Explore further: Lockheed Martin successfully mates NOAA GOES-R satellite modules

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Moonlets created and destroyed in a ring of Saturn

Sep 09, 2014

There is an ongoing drama in the Saturnian ring system that causes small moons to be born and then destroyed on time scales that are but an eyeblink in the history of the solar system. SETI Institute scientists ...

Titan's subsurface reservoirs modify methane rainfall

Sep 02, 2014

(Phys.org) —The international Cassini mission has revealed hundreds of lakes and seas spread across the icy surface of Saturn's moon Titan, mostly in its polar regions. These lakes are filled not with water ...

Meet the "swarmies"- robotics' answer to bugs

Aug 22, 2014

(Phys.org) —A small band of NASA engineers and interns is about to begin testing a group of robots and related software that will show whether it's possible for autonomous machines to scurry about an alien ...

Electric sparks may alter evolution of lunar soil

Aug 21, 2014

The moon appears to be a tranquil place, but modeling done by University of New Hampshire and NASA scientists suggests that, over the eons, periodic storms of solar energetic particles may have significantly ...

Exploring Mars in low Earth orbit

Jul 31, 2014

In their quest to understand life's potential beyond Earth, astrobiologists study how organisms might survive in numerous environments, from the surface of Mars to the ice-covered oceans of Jupiter's moon, ...

Recommended for you

Internet moguls Musk, Bezos shake up US space race

10 hours ago

The space race to end America's reliance on Russia escalated this week with a multibillion dollar NASA award for SpaceX's Elon Musk and an unexpected joint venture for Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos.

Winter in the southern uplands of Mars

Sep 19, 2014

Over billions of years, the southern uplands of Mars have been pockmarked by numerous impact features, which are often so closely packed that they overlap. One such feature is Hooke crater, shown in this ...

Five facts about NASA's ISS-RapidScat

Sep 19, 2014

NASA's ISS-RapidScat mission will observe ocean wind speed and direction over most of the globe, bringing a new eye on tropical storms, hurricanes and typhoons. Here are five fast facts about the mission.

User comments : 6

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

zevkirsh
1 / 5 (1) Feb 06, 2009
they should have nuked the moon. that would have produced some nice debris. 5600 miles an hour is SLOW in outerspace. ALL of our sattelites orbit faster than that. SLOW
Ausjin
not rated yet Feb 07, 2009
The moon is still just 1/8 the earth's gravity. This should mean a less dense crust which would allow pretty impressive penetration for a 2 ton mass at that velocity. I am not holding out much hope they will find water ice though. Low gravity, no atmosphere, theories most of the moon was molten when it formed, well I am sure the reasons for a lack of water are clear to most people. If they do find water, it will be deep below the surface, and not likely to be an appreciable quantity.
Nik_2213
not rated yet Feb 07, 2009
A pity they can't put eg Sodium tracer on the impactor, per the unauthorised C*c*-C*l* advert in AC Clarke's lunar tales...
fredeb
not rated yet Feb 08, 2009
Is there not another way of doing this ? Like a robotic drilling expedition . Firing a projectile at the moon seems crazy , the moon affects our very being .
seanpu
not rated yet Feb 09, 2009
watching in ONLY infrared is somewhat limiting. they should cover as many wavelengths as possible. they should bring in hubble, chandra, spitzer, and anything else to expand our visibility of the event across the spectrum.

I bet they'll see more energy being let out than they'd expect, and if there will be a flash of light, they'll see two flashes.

Just like when deep impact hits its asteroid, we wont have enough good eyes looking to clearly determine/investigate any anomalous energy that might (probably) show itself.

But this time, we should be able to get close up and personal with the debris and the crater, see if the impact conforms with impact theory here on earth.

shame they wont do this on OUR side of the moon, and when the moon is eclipsed by Earth. Everyone (well 50% of us) could have then watched from their back gardens.
Velanarris
not rated yet Feb 09, 2009
Is there not another way of doing this ? Like a robotic drilling expedition . Firing a projectile at the moon seems crazy , the moon affects our very being .
A rocket is far easier than a robotic drilling team and 2 tons compared to the mass of the moon is akin to a mosquito hitting your windshield.