Depending on what time zone you live in, you may or may not have just had the opportunity to watch the end of the LCROSS mission (live on NASA TV!). If you haven’t been following this very closely, LCROSS was a super-cheap mission to look for water on the moon by crashing a spent Centaur upper stage into a shadowed crater, then flying through the resulting plume with a small spacecraft in order to get direct measurements of what got tossed up. The small “shepherding” spacecraft then impacted nearby, with both impacts being choreographed such that the LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) and telescopes back on Earth can watch the show with a whole suite of instruments.
Here’s a quick (4 minutes 16 seconds) video overview of the mission:
As for the live coverage, I’m a bit puzzled — as are likely quite a few other folks. The impact of the Centaur was supposed to result in a very bright plume as the dust it stirred up rose out of shadows into sunlight — but we sure didn’t see anything that looked like a “flash” in the real-time video from the shepherding spacecraft. Maybe the real-time data just wasn’t quick enough to show it?
At any rate, we should know more when the mission managers have a press conference later today. The live video may have been a bit underwhelming, but the data collected by the shepherding spacecraft’s instruments and by LRO should prove to be interesting…