NASA crashing rocket into Moon in search of water - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

NASA crashing rocket into Moon in search of water

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It may not sound real, but it's true. NASA plans to crash a rocket into the Moon this Friday.

The Centaur rocket is on a collision course with the Moon, expected to make contact at about 4:30 a.m. Friday.

"It is dramatic and somewhat violent, but we're going to crash a large rocket into the surface of the Moon traveling 5,600 miles per hour," Fleet Science Center resident astronomer and Southwestern College astronomy professor Grant Miller said.

The impact is expected to produce enough energy to dig out a crater roughly 100 miles across and 15 feet deep near the Moon's South Pole. NASA will then use a special satellite known as the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite - or LCROSS - to examine the huge cloud of dust thrown up after the collision.

"Four minutes later, the second craft descends through the plume sampling it directly and then ultimately crashing into the Moon itself," Miller said.

Data gathered by the LCROSS will be sent back to earth, where scientists will also be examining the dust plume through telescopes. The goal is to search for signs of water ice hidden beneath the lunar surface, with an eye toward future exploration.

"With water on the Moon, it makes it more likely to be able to put a manned presence on the Moon," Miller said.

Miller says this project could also provide answers to persistent questions about the Moon's origins and its evolution.

"This is going to be like a once in a lifetime event, one of those events everyone is looking forward to," John Restivo of the San Diego Astronomy Association said.

Dozens of local stargazers plan to head out to the East County early Friday morning to witness the lunar collision as it happens.

"This should be really exciting. I don't think we've ever impacted anything on the moon before and I don't know if we'll ever do it again," SDAA member Dave Petit said.

To observe this lunar impact, which is expected to last fewer than two minutes, you will need a moderately large telescope. Experts advise heading up into the mountains or far out into East County away from city lights to get the best view.

NASA is inviting all amateur astronomers to join its Citizen Scientist program for this mission, asking the public to send in their photos of the event.

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