BY DR EMILY BALDWIN
Posted: 11 June, 2009
A sequence of four frames around the impact time, with a bright impact flash visible in the second frame, and faintly seen in the third and fourth. Image: Anglo-Australian Telescope by Jeremy Bailey (University of New South Wales) and Steve Lee (Anglo-Australian Observatory).
Kaguya, also known as SELENE (SELenological and ENgineering Explorer), launched in September 2007 and arrived in orbit around the Moon 20 days later where it observed our satellite for almost two years. During its mission, Kaguya mapped the lunar surface and studied its magnetic and gravity environment in order to better prepare for the return of humans to the Moon in the future.
As Kaguya’s fuel supply gradually came to an end, JAXA prepared to culminate the mission in spectacular fashion with a controlled collision into the lunar surface. Crash-down occurred at 1925 BST last night at a position located 80.4 degrees east longitude and 65.5 degrees south longitude as viewed from Earth.
Three-dimensional view of the Apollo 15 landing site as taken by Kaguya's Terrain Camera. Image: JAXA/SELENE.
The Anglo-Australian Telescope’s infrared wide-field camera and spectrograph – IRIS2 – detected the flash as the spacecraft collided with the lunar surface at an angle just one degree from the horizontal into a region of darkness near the terminator. This meant that dust thrown up from the impact would be illuminated by sunlight. Scientists will now analyse the images in order to study the dust and impact environment.
The mission ended in a similar style to the European Space Agency’s SMART-1 mission, which was deliberately crashed into the Moon in 2006. Kaguya was five times heavier than SMART-1.
Kaguya created new topography maps of the lunar surface which will help in the planning of future manned missions to the Moon. Image: JAXA/SELENE.
Next week NASA will launch a fully dedicated lunar impactor to the Moon. The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) will launch with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and will set its impact probe on a collision course with a permanently shadowed crater at the lunar south pole. As the probe crashes into the Moon, instruments on board LCROSS will attempt to detect hydrogen and water molecules in the ejected material. If the target 17 June launch date for LCROSS and LRO is met, then the probe will impact the Moon in early October.