Friday: crash into Moon | University of Oxford
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OSB archive

Friday: crash into Moon

Pete Wilton

What are you doing this Friday lunchtime?

If you are NASA's LCROSS spacecraft then you will be crashing into the surface of the Moon.

As Chris Lintott of Oxford's Department of Physics tells The Guardian's Science Weekly podcast this is no accident but exactly what it's been designed to do.

The purpose behind LCROSS's suicide mission is to find out more about water ice deposits hidden in the eternally dark depths of craters on the lunar surface. Finding such deposits is important as water would be a source of the hydrogen and oxygen needed to make rocket fuel as well as a boon for thirsty astronauts.

At 12:30 BST the spacecraft's rocket stage, Centaur, will smash into the lunar crater Cabeus. The LCROSS satellite will be following a few minutes behind so that it can fly through the plume of debris caused by the initial impact, analysing the materials ejected from the crater.

Chris tells us that, if you can get a clear view of the Moon, you should be able to see the glitter as the plume catches the sunlight. Hopefully those monitoring LCROSS's instruments will be able to see more, discovering much about the ancient history of the Moon and our solar system.

In the podcast Chris also gives an update on the Galaxy Zoo peas, discusses dark matter, and shares the excitement generated by the recent discovery of an extrasolar planet that orbits its star backwards.

Could this be evidence for a planet 'kidnapped' from a rival star? Or under the influence of some distant super-Jupiter?

At the moment we don't know, but as Chris comments these discoveries are making us realise just how weird other systems are: 'there's a whole zoo of different solar systems out there!' he tells The Guardian's Nell Boase.