This Friday, NASA will make its way to the moon, but unlike typical missions the spacecraft will be crashing into, rather than landing on, the cratered surface.
“Everybody is feeling very excited,” said NASA's program executive for the mission, Victoria Friedensen, in a recent MSNBC article. “There is a great sense of anticipation.”
The scientists’ hope is that the crash will kick up a bunch of giant debris plumes, essentially moon dirt, which scientists will then scan for signs of water ice.
Last month, NASA announced that water was discovered on the moon for the first time.
NASA suspects that signs for water ice may be buried deep within the floor of a crater known as Cabeus, which is located near the moon’s south pole. According to Space.com, Cabeus is a "relatively flat crater about 60 miles in diameter on the moon's south pole that scientists believe may be one of those special cases that might hold water ice in its perpetually shadowed top soil.”
In June, NASA launched the Lunar Crater Observation Satellite or LCROSS, which has connected to it the empty Centaur rocket stage that will crash into the moon this Friday at 7:31 a.m. ET.
According to the report, the Centaur rocket stage is 42-feet long and weighs in at a little more than 5,000 pounds, about the weight of a sport utility vehicle. It plans to hurtle towards the moon at about 5,600 mph.
Given its size and speed, the researchers believe that the impact will blast open a new crater about 12 miles wide, sending dirt about 6.2 miles high where it will then be lit up by the sun.
But that’s not all. Four minutes after the rocket stage slams into the moon, the hulking 1,664-pound LCROSS shepherding craft will follow suit, causing a second explosion.
Surprisingly, moon crashing isn't all that new. Japan's recent Kaguya probe, Europe's Smart-1 and NASA's Lunar Prospector are all previous moon crashers. But unlike them, the LCROSS spacecrafts plan to hit at a steep angle so that they’ll generate the biggest explosion, according to mission managers, who quite likely have the coolest job in the universe.
When it comes to filming this moon versus spacecraft mash-up, NASA’s got it covered with nine different science instruments, which will be actively scanning the debris for water ice. Cameras will also be beaming live views of the impact back to NASA's mission operations center at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
Back on Earth, more than 20 observatories as well as many amateur astronomers, museums and volunteers will also be scanning the clouds of debris for water ice.
Luckily for the rest of us, NASA has said that “seasoned amateur astronomers may be able to see the crash using 10 or 12-inch telescopes depending on their location, local weather and lighting conditions.”
Just go to this site to get the rundown on how to spot the crash.