No big flash from NASA's moon crash

NASA crashed a rocket and a lunar probe into the moon Friday morning in the hopes of finding water hidden beneath the rocky surface.

NASA crashed a rocket and a lunar probe into the moon Friday morning in the hopes of finding water hidden beneath the rocky surface.

This image from the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite was taken shortly after the Centaur rocket crashed into the moon. ((NASA/Associated Press))
However, the blasts from the impacts weren't picked up by NASA's cameras as expected. Officials with NASA said the probe's cameras were working, but live images didn't appear on the agency's website.

At a news conference Friday morning, NASA scientists showed an enlarged photo taken from the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS).

"There was an impact. We saw the impact. We saw the crater," said Anthony Colaprete of the LCROSS science team.

NASA said the impact was visible from a near-infrared camera. "The flash is several pixels across," said Colaprete.

Colaprete said that LCROSS was successful in collecting its data, but wouldn't comment on any results.

Jennifer Heldmann, another member of the LCROSS science team, said their instruments analyzing the light spectrum from the impact found a sodium flash. The researchers said it was an interesting observation, but they weren't sure yet what it means.

"We saw variations in the spectra, so we saw something," said Colaprete.

Heat signature confirmed

"I'm not going to say anything about water or no water," said Colaprete. "We have the data we need to address the questions we set out to address."  

The mid-infrared camera on LCROSS detected a sodium flash, the white dot at the centre of these images, when its spent rocket crashed into the moon. ((NASA) )
Colaprete said he couldn't tell whether there was a plume of dust based on the scientists' preliminary look at the data.

"We haven't been able to see it clearly in our image data yet."

The first impact happened at 7:33 a.m. ET, when a rocket that had carried a lunar probe hit the crater Cabeus, creating a small crater of its own. The impact was expected to send debris about 10 kilometres high.

The LCROSS satellite observed the impact, as did the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Hubble Space Telescope and three other Earth-orbiting satellites, and telescopes in the western U.S. and Hawaii. 

The LCROSS probe followed the rocket about two minutes later, travelling through the cloud of debris created by the rocket impact to scour for ice before plunging into the crater itself.

Members of the LCROSS science team confirmed a heat signature of the impact, but it didn't seem to register on the video on NASA TV.

The rocket shell hit the moon inside a permanently shadowed crater, so it's possible the plume of dust created by the impact didn't reach high enough to reflect light from the sun.

Disappointment for stargazers

The lack of a visible flash was a disappointment for stargazers who gathered across North America to watch the crash. On its website, NASA listed observatories in the U.S. and Canada where people could watch the end of the LCROSS mission.

People who got up before dawn to watch the impact at Los Angeles' Griffith Observatory threw confused looks at each other instead.

Telescope demonstrator Jim Mahon called the lunar show "anticlimactic."

"I was hoping we'd see a flash or a flare," Mahon told The Associated Press.

The science team said LCROSS collected and transmitted about four minutes of data from the probe's descent and they are making their preliminary assessment of the satellite's readings.

NASA is hoping to confirm whether water is hidden beneath the surface of the moon. A significant amount of water on the moon would be a valuable resource for future manned lunar missions.

With files from The Associated Press