On 17 December 2012 at 5:28 p.m. and 5:29 p.m. Eastern Time, NASA JPL scientists in California will set the twin probes Ebb and Flow on a shallow angle collision course with the rim of an impact crater on the moon.
At the time of the impact, the chosen crash site will be shrouded in darkness; yet, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will be on location to photograph the impact site before and after the planned crash.
Soon after impact, NASA scientists will compare the photos acquired and delivered by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. They will study how the surface rock is broken up around the impact site in hope of better understanding the composition of the lunar surface.
In the best case scenario, scientists will be looking for moon dust and gas to be ejected from the surface, explains Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Scientist Maria Zuber.
Today’s Ebb and Flow event isn’t the first time NASA has deliberately crashed a probe into the moon. In 1999, the Lunar Prospector spacecraft was intentionally hurled at the moon in hope of liberating some dust and gas; regrettably, scientists saw no such result.
Ebb and Flow are planned to crash approximately 20 seconds and between 12 and 24 miles apart. Both will be traveling at a speed of roughly 3,800 miles per hour.
This geek loves this type of space science: “They are at the end of their useful life and have worked as expected all year. We can’t refuel them. So… let’s give them a closer look at the moon they have been studying. Why not crash them into the moon and see what happens?”
As you look at the moon tonight, join space geeks everywhere in wishing Ebb and Flow a fond farewell. Watch more at NASA T.V.