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Public Participation in the LCROSS mission
Hello, my name is Brian Day. I am the education and public outreach lead for NASA's LCROSS Lunar Impactor mission.
We're planning the ground-based observations using the great observatories of the world to be centered around the great telescopes in Hawaii up on top of Mauna Kea with some of the largest telescopes in the world and some of the best viewing conditions in the world. But we also think that amateur astronomers with backyard telescopes will be able to get very good views of the LCROSS impact. So we're encouraging amateur astronomers to take images and to share these images with us, because these could be very valuable for us scientifically.
We're also looking to have the amateur astronomers track the spacecraft during those big looping LGALRO orbits. To image the spacecraft as it flies on its way in the mission. The question arose: Is that really possible with amateur backyard telescopes? And the answer is yes. So, what is it we're expecting to see? Well, on a time frame of just the first few seconds, there will be this thermal flash, this real bright flash caused by the heat generated when the centaur hits the surface. Over the next minute or so there will be this plume that will expand high up into the Moon's sky. That will arch up to the point where it's out of the shadow of the crater, and it will be illuminated by the sunlight. That's when we're hoping everybody will be able to start catching images.
For a number of hours after that there will be a very, very thin cloud of gas, we think possibly OH (oxygen and hydrogen bound together) and that could be expanding for hours, but that will be something that will be observed by the big telescopes of the world.
How do we guesstimate what this impact is going to be like? After all we've never really done this before. But we've done tests. Here at Ames we have something called the Vertical Gun Range. This is a big cannon that shoots hyper velocity projectiles into a vacuum chamber. We can vary the angle that those projectiles go and hit this simulated lunar soil, and we create lunar craters on our own. It’s really a very cool place.
Another exciting aspect of the LCROSS mission is student involvement. How will students actually play a real role in the LCROSS mission? Part of that is through the Student Telemetry Team: Students across the country in classrooms all around, will be using the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT), a giant 34 meter dish at Goldstone Deep Space Network Tracking Facility. The students are actually going to be helping the NASA mission team to track the spacecraft and to monitor its health and status during its flight. Using a radio spectrometer on this dish, students will actually be able to do Doppler studies to measure the velocity, the speed of this spacecraft as it is traveling through space.
With the LCROSS mission, timing is everything. The fact this is happening in 2009 corresponds with the International Year of Astronomy. Some 400 years ago, Galileo was pointing his telescope up into the sky and discovering the rings of Saturn, discovering the moons of Jupiter, and looking at this really interesting terrain of the Moon.
This also corresponds with the International Polar Year. The International Polar Year is an effort where countries around the world gather to study the science of what is happening at the poles. NASA is a big participant in this. But from NASA’s point of view, the International Polar Year consists of six poles: two on the Earth, two on Mars, and two on the Moon. We're going to have one of the Moon's poles pretty well covered here. It also corresponds with the 50th anniversary of NASA: kind of an appropriate time to be heading back to the Moon.
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