Japanese probe set to crash into moon on June 10

June 9th, 2009 - 1:53 pm ICT by ANI  

London, June 9 (ANI): Japan’s Kaguya lunar orbiter will end its nearly two-year mission when it collides with the moon on June 10.

According to a report in New Scientist, observers may be able to spot a bright flash or plume of dust from the crash, and researchers will study its impact site to watch how radiation and micrometeoroids weather the newly exposed lunar soil over time.

Launched in September 2007, Kaguya, formerly known at SELENE, sought to shed light on the formation and evolution of the moon by studying its composition, gravitational field and surface characteristics.

Kaguya deployed two smaller satellites after reaching lunar orbit that allowed it to relay data to Earth while it was on the moon’s far side and to better measure anomalies in the moon’s gravitational field.

It also made the world’s first HD video of the lunar surface.

Like previous lunar orbiters, including China’s Chang’e 1 and Europe’s SMART-1 probes, Kaguya will end its voyage in a violent rendezvous with the moon’s surface.

It is set to impact in the lower-right section of the moon’s near side.

Coming in at a very shallow angle, nearly parallel to the ground, the probe has a high chance of skipping across the surface, like a stone across a pond.

Ground-based observers are unlikely to see this skipping.

But, they might be able to spot a plume of dust raised by the impact, if it is backlit by the sun, like snow thrown up by a skier ploughing through powder, according to Bernard Foing, project scientist of the European Space Agency’s SMART-1 probe, which impacted the moon in 2006.

Viewers should also expect to see a brief flash as some of the kinetic energy of the probe, which will be moving at 6000 kilometres per hour, is converted to heat and light in the collision.

“It’s a final show for the Japanese people,” said Shin-ichi Sobue, a researcher and spokesperson for the Kaguya mission.

Foing said that researchers can learn from these crashes.

“Impact is the destiny of each orbiter,” he told New Scientist. “We try to make use of it as a research opportunity,” he added.

According to Peter Schultz, an expert on lunar impacts at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, depending on the specific terrain of the impact site, the crash could leave an elongated scar, exposing fresh soil, or regolith, to the harsh environment of space.

Scientists could watch how the lunar soil weathers over time under solar radiation and bombardment by smaller meteoroids. (ANI)

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