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NASA’s Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) did indeed kick up the hoped-for debris plume, and generated useful data.
Crashing into Cabeus crater last week, the nine LCROSS instruments successfully recorded the impact flash, the ejecta plume, and the creation of the Centaur crater.
“We are blown away by the data returned,” said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS principal investigator and project scientist. “The team is working hard on the analysis and the data appear to be of very high quality.”
“There is a clear indication of a plume of vapor and fine debris,” Colaprete added. “Within the range of model predictions we made, the ejecta brightness appears to be at the low end of our predictions, and this may be a clue to the properties of the material the Centaur impacted.”
The LCROSS spacecraft captured the Centaur impact flash in both mid-infrared (MIR) thermal cameras over two seconds, providing valuable information about the composition of the material at the impact site. It also also recorded emissions and absorption spectra across the flash using an ultraviolet/visible spectrometer.
With the spacecraft returning data until virtually the last second, the thermal and near-infrared cameras returned excellent images of the Centaur impact crater at a resolution of less than two meters. The images indicate that the crater was about 28m wide.
“The images of the floor of Cabeus are exciting,” said Colaprete. “Being able to image the Centaur crater helps us reconstruct the impact process, which in turn helps us understand the observations of the flash and ejecta plume.”
In the coming weeks, the team will continue to analyze and verify the new data. NASA says it will release any information as soon as it is available.