Breaking rocks on the cold moon
- August 31, 2006 3:11 PM |
- By Quirks
If you're the kind of person who rubbernecks at vehicle crashes and you've got a decent telescope, we've got a unique opportunity for you: the chance to see a spacecraft smash into the moon.
Focus your telescope on the dark side of the moon at 1:41 a.m ET on Sept. 3 and you might just see the flash as the European Space Agency's SMART-1 piles into the lunar surface. You can read about it here, too.
SMART-1 is (was?) a testbed for a new kind of experimental engine called an ion drive, and has spent a couple of years studying the lunar surface. Now the probe is out of gas, but it's still going out with a bang.
Smashing spacecraft into things would seem to be a waste of multimillion-dollar equipment, but in fact it's all the rage in the space-flight community these days. NASA's Deep Impact took a chunk out of Comet Tempel 1 earlier this year. NASA is also aiming a mission at the moon, the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), which is due to create a hole in the lunar pole to look for ice.
This isn't just carnage for the sake of it. It's also good science. As any three-year-old knows, smashing things is a wonderful way to figure out how they work. And smashing up planets, moons and comets can tell us a lot about what they're made of and how they formed. When you talk to scientists, they're very serious about the data they'll get from these collisions and what they'll learn. But it's hard to escape the feeling that at some level, they're also getting that familiar childish thrill of watching things go bang in a big way.
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