The Science of Sustainability

Reporter's Notes: Crash Landing

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Credit: NASA.

When the LCROSS satellite, nicknamed Centaur, smacks into the south pole of the moon in late October, it is expected to produce a plume of dust 37 miles high, which may be visible from Earth with a good backyard telescope. It will be visible in an arc from Hawaii to Texas.

If you'd like to catch the impact, the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland is hosting a Shooting the Moon star party on the night of impact. Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco may host a star-gazing event, as well, but it hasn't been announced yet. And you could check in on other observatories in the Bay Area, as well: Lick observatory in the Santa Cruz mountains, Foothill observatory in Los Altos Hills, Sonoma State observatory in Rohnert Park, and the Fremont Peak observatory in the East Bay.

Not all of them will be open to the public; for instance, Foothill Observatory will be closed to the public, because they’ve been asked to take photographs of the event.

If you know anyone with a 10-inch telescope (that's the diameter of the lens), you can bet that telescope will be lined up to look skyward when the LCROSS probe hits the moon.

If the impact goes well, then the plume above the moon's surface could hover there for hours. It will make its own crater on the moon about 6 feet deep and 30 yards wide, so the plume of dust will not be visible to the naked eye, or even through binoculars.

The exact date, time and even the exact location of the impact have not yet been determined. Keep your eye on NASA's site for more information.

And one aside: This impact will not hurt the moon, or send it off its orbit. That may seem apparent to many people, but NASA Ames officials say those are the most-asked questions about the project.

Listen to the Crash Landing radio report online.


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Category: Astronomy, Radio

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About the Author ()

David Gorn is the former Deputy News Director of KQED Radio, and currently works as a freelancer for National Public Radio. He has worked for three daily Bay Area newspapers, has been Editor-in-Chief of several magazines, and has taught journalism at San Jose State University and San Francisco State University.
  • Paul Tompkins

    Thank you for the publicity! We're working hard to be ready for launch on June 17. For accuracy, just a quick note…LCROSS and Centaur are not actually the same things. LCROSS is *attached* to the Centaur, which is the name of the upper stage of the Atlas V launch vehicle. The LCROSS spacecraft carries the spent Centaur into an impact trajectory, and observes the Centaur impact the moon. LCROSS then impacts the moon nearby roughly four minutes later.

  • http://v2.com WvB

    Like the story. But it refers to our 40 year history of lunar exploration, and it really should be 50 counting back to first U.S. and Soviet moon probes.

  • kpappas

    I enjoyed the story, except for the casual reference to colonization of the moon. Did I miss the discussion about whether we should or would even want to colonize the moon? Imagine the moon as our next strip mall, Vegas-style casino/resort, or Times Square.