NASA's Lunar Prospector first detected some hydrogen signatures in craters on the dark side of the moon in 1999. Ever since, researchers have been keen to confirm the presence of water on the moon. The Lunar CRater Observing and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) is tasked with crashing through the mists of speculation and conjecture and discover the truth. And you can watch all the action as it happens.
LCROSS was launched on June 18th and executed a fly-by of the moon five days later before entering into a wide orbit. On Friday October 9th, the craft will start to make its final approach, not to land but to crash land. The upper stage rocket in front, the Centaur, will separate from LCROSS which will, in turn, slow down a little. Creating a four minute gap between each vessel, the Centaur will crash into the Cabeus crater at the Moon's south pole. The heavy impact will create a great plume of debris.
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Following behind, the LCROSS will pass through the debris, collecting and relaying data back to Earth before itself impacting the crater. As well as a visible camera and radiometer, the LCROSS payload also includes two near-infrared spectrometers, a visible light spectrometer, two mid-infrared cameras and two near-infrared cameras.
"As the ejecta rises above the target crater's rim and is exposed to sunlight, any water-ice, hydrocarbons or organics will vaporize and break down into their basic components. These components primarily will be monitored by the visible and infrared spectrometers. The near-infrared and mid-infrared cameras will determine the total amount and distribution of water in the debris plume. The spacecraft's visible camera will track the impact location and the behavior of the debris plume while the visible radiometer will measure the flash created by the Centaur impact," NASA explains in the mission overview.
The good news for all you space fans out there is that NASA will be broadcasting the whole event live on NASA TV. The one and a half hour long show will start at 6:15 am EDT / 3:15 am PDT on Friday October 9th, with the first impact currently scheduled for 7:30 am EDT / 4:30 am PDT.
The broadcast will include live footage from the spacecraft's camera, real-time telemetry based animation, various location clips and (of course, sports fans) live commentary with special guests. For information on how and where to best enjoy the experience, visit NASA's Impact index page.