NASA Collaborates with Astronomers in Search for Moon Water

LCROSS heading towards the Moon. Credits: NASA

In early 2009, astronomers on Earth will point telescopes at the moon looking for water -- and NASA will help them find their target.

NASA experts and professional astronomers are gathering today at NASA's Ames Research Center for the Lunar CRater Observing and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, Astronomer Workshop. The workshop's goal is to facilitate collaboration among experts concerning the best techniques to observe the expected debris plume created by the satellite's impacts on the lunar South Pole.

"The mission team, through the LCROSS Observation Campaign, will encourage astronomers using both ground- and space-based telescopes to observe the LCROSS lunar impacts," said Jennifer Heldmann, coordinator of the LCROSS Observation Campaign. "Participation by professional astronomers is a key component of the LCROSS mission.
The campaign also will tap into the knowledge and expertise of the large amateur astronomer community," Heldmann added.

The satellite's impacts are expected to be visible from Earth using
10-to-12 inch and larger telescopes. After the impacts, the mission's science team plans to collect images and data and compile that information into a lunar knowledgebase for use by the scientific community as NASA plans future missions to the moon.

"The data collected by LCROSS and Earth-based assets will greatly improve our understanding of permanently shadowed craters on the moon," said Anthony Colaprete, principle investigator for the mission. "If we find water ice, it will have great implications for human exploration of the moon."

The satellite is scheduled to launch with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., at the end of this year. After launch, the LCROSS shepherding spacecraft and the Atlas V's Centaur upper stage rocket will execute a fly-by of the moon and enter into an elongated Earth orbit. This maneuver will position the satellite for optimal impact with the moon's South Pole.
On final approach, the shepherding spacecraft and Centaur will separate. The Centaur will act as a heavy impactor that will excavate the crater floor and create a debris plume extending above the lunar surface. Following four-minutes behind the Centaur, the shepherding spacecraft will fly through the debris plume collecting data. That information will be sent back to Earth before the spacecraft impacts the lunar surface, creating a second debris plume.

The LCROSS Astronomer Workshop is co-sponsored by the Lunar and Planetary Institute, the LCROSS project office, NASA Ames and NASA Science and Exploration Systems Mission Directorates at NASA Headquarters, Washington.

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