Jun 10, 2009 04:52 PM
The Japanese Kaguya spacecraft, in orbit around the moon since 2007, was scheduled to meet its planned demise today with a lunar impact at about 2:25 P.M. EDT. More than two hours later a link to a photo that may show the probe's plunge appeared on Twitter, but before that time confirmation was hard to come by, and details remain scarce.
A call to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) public affairs office reached a recorded message in Japanese, and a NASA spokesperson did not have details on the probe's impact. Calls to two observatories in Australia, where the event may have been visible through telescopes, went unanswered. And Alan Gilmore, resident superintendent at Mount John University Observatory in New Zealand, told ScientificAmerican.com that bad weather prevented a viewing opportunity from his location. "It was going to be a long shot anyway," Gilmore says, given Kaguya's planned landing site at the very edge of the moon's visible face.
Impacts are valuable scientific experiments in their own right—NASA plans to launch a probe called LCROSS next week to look for evidence of water ice in the plume shot up by just such a blow. Geological scientist Peter Schultz of Brown University told the New Scientist that the fresh terrain exposed by Kaguya's impact could prove interesting to those who study the moon. Watching how the crash site reacts to the harsh lunar environment is like "watching a wound heal," Schultz told the magazine.
Kaguya has been popular with the public thanks in large part to its ability to film high-definition video of the lunar surface from orbit. The HD footage (a sampling of which appears below) is a collaboration between JAXA and the Japan Broadcasting Corporation.
UPDATE (6/11/2009): A European Space Agency release confirms that Kaguya impacted on time and identifies the image linked to in the first paragraph of this story as coming from the Anglo–Australian Telescope in Australia.
Photo of 2007 Kaguya launch: Naritama via Wikimedia Commons
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