One of two missions being launched, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) will crash into a deep polar crater on the lunar surface, sending up debris that LCROSS will analyze for traces of water.
As the debris plume from the crash rises, the hope is that water-ice, rich with hydrocarbons or organics will be exposed to sunlight and vaporize. On board infra-red spectrometers, cameras and radiometers will analyze the vapor. According to NASA, the LCROSS mission will be the first in-place study of the permanently shadowed craters on the moon’s surface.
“Those areas of the Moon, we actually have very sparse information of,” Craig Tooley, the project manager of the mission said. “We have much better maps of Mars than we have of our Moon’s polar regions.”
The LCROSS mission is coupled with another, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which will orbit the Moon and map the surface, keeping an eye out for potential landing sites for astronauts. The LRO mission’s primary objective is to help NASA locate landing places for astronauts which could help in planning a Moon base. The water data, if positive, will also be gold to scientists. Water could provide a unique record of the past two billion years of the solar system.
All images courtesy of NASA/JPL
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