SETI [ASTRO] UA Astronomers Will Watch For Lunar Prospector Plume -- And Wish Gene Shoemaker A Final Happy Landing

Larry Klaes (
Thu, 29 Jul 1999 08:27:12 -0400

>X-Authentication-Warning: majordom set sender
to owner-astro using -f
>Date: Wed, 28 Jul 1999 22:12:05 GMT
>From: Ron Baalke <>
>Subject: [ASTRO] UA Astronomers Will Watch For Lunar Prospector Plume --
And Wish Gene Shoemaker A Final Happy Landing
>Reply-To: Ron Baalke <>
>UA astronomers will watch for Lunar Prospector plume Saturday -- and wish
>Gene Shoemaker a final happy landing
>Carolyn C. Porco
>Stephen M. Larson
>Ann L. Sprague
>TUCSON, ARIZ. -- When Lunar Prospector crash dives into the moon's south
>pole early Saturday morning, Tucson-based observers hope for clear skies and
>a good view.
>Also watching intently will be a University of Arizona planetary scientist
>who is sending a memorial tribute aboard the satellite.
>UA astronomers and others observing near Tucson are part of an extensive
>network that will be searching for water vapor in Lunar Prospector's impact
>Since its launch in January 1998, Lunar Prospector has scored a number of
>scientific coups, as well as a followup confirmation of possible water-ice
>deposits at the north and south lunar poles. The question is whether the
>hydrogen it detected exists in water ice or in hydrogen-containing compounds
>called hydrates. Not all scientists agree this experiment will definitively
>answer the question. (For more on that, see news online at
> ) However, the
>answer is of scientific and practical interest for future space explorers.
>Sending a pint of water to the moon costs $10,000. So picking it up at the
>south lunar pole could turn out to be one of the biggest bargains in this
>part of the solar system.
>Aerospace engineers at the University of Texas in Austin were the first to
>conceive of crashing Lunar Prospector into a frigid, shadowed crater at the
>lunar south pole just before the satellite runs out of fuel. The 354-pound
>(161 kg) Lunar Prospector will be traveling at 3,600 mph (5,793 kph) or
>faster. If the impact plume it generates is large enough - and that's a big
>"if," scientists emphasize - observers might discover the first irrefutable
>proof of water on the moon. But scientists caution that it may take weeks or
>months of data crunching before this is confirmed.
>The project was approved by officials at the NASA Ames Research Center in
>Moffett Field, Calif., which manages the mission, and at NASA Headquarters
>in Washington, D.C. Observers will watch for the impact plume with
>telescopes at several locations including Texas, California, and Hawaii.
>Those involved will include the Hubble Space Telescope, the Keck 1
>telescope, and the MacDonald Observatory telescopes.
>If monsoon clouds don't obscure their views. Ann L. Sprague and Stephen M.
>Larson, both of the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL), will observe
>with telescopes in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. Other
>astronomers will use the McMath-Pierce and WIYN telescopes on Kitt Peak,
>southwest of Tucson.
>Sprague and her colleagues will use the UA's 1.54 meter (61-inch) telescope
>on Mount Bigelow to monitor sodium in the moon's diaphanous atmosphere
>before, during and after impact. They are trying to learn more about the
>structures of the thin atmospheres on the moon and planet Mercury by using
>spectroscopy to look for sodium and other elements..
>Larson will install special filters on the 1.52 -meter (60-inch) NASA
>reflector telescope on Mount Lemmon to look for OH, a byproduct of water.
>"Given the moon's low declination and the monsoon weather, I don't expect
>anything close to Keck or HST results, but I'll be looking anyway," he said.
>The 61-inch telescope was built by the late Gerard Kuiper, who founded LPL,
>in the early 1960s to survey the moon in preparation for the lunar
>spacecraft missions being proposed at that time. Kuiper died in 1973. His
>ashes were placed at the 61-inch telescope during a small LPL celebration
>last month. The Mount Lemmon 60-inch telescope, also built by Kuiper, was
>used for lunar laser ranging observations after Apollo 11.
>The filters Larson will use are the same ones he used in photographing Comet
>Hale-Bopp from Tucson in April 1997. One of those images rides on a small,
>polycarbonate capsule that is hitching a ride to the moon aboard Lunar
>Prospector. The capsule is wrapped in a piece of brass foil inscribed with
>Larson's image of Comet Hale-Bopp, an image of Meteor Crater in northern
>Arizona and a passage from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet."
>Inside the capsule are the ashes of the late Eugene M. Shoemaker. Shoemaker
>was a pioneering planetary geologist famous for his work on extraterrestrial
>impacts and for his later collaboration with his wife, Carolyn, in the study
>and discovery of comets. He was killed in a July 1997 auto accident in
>Australia. LPL Associate Professor Carolyn C. Porco conceived, designed and
>produced this tribute honoring Shoemaker in time for the Lunar Prospector
>launch only months after Shoemaker's death.
>"It was legend among planetary scientists that Gene's life-long dream was to
>go to the moon and study its geology firsthand," Porco said. "At his
>journey's end - thirty years to the month after humans first set foot on the
>moon - Eugene M. Shoemaker will become the first inhabitant of Earth to be
>sent to rest on another celestial body," Porco said.
>Porco has produced replicas of the Shoemaker tribute foil for museum
>display. They have been sent to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in
>Washington, D.C.; the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, the Hayden Planetarium
>in New York and the U.S. Geological Survey headquarters in Reston, Va.,
>Copies also have been given to the U.S. Geological Survey Gene Shoemaker
>Building, which is under construction in Flagstaff, Ariz.; the Meteor Crater
>Visitor Center; NASA Ames Research Center; NASA Headquarters; and the UA
>Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.
>Additional copies have gone to Carolyn Shoemaker: NASA Chief Administrator
>Dan Goldin; Wesley Huntress, formerly head of the NASA Space Sciences
>Division; and Bruce Babbitt, U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
>For more information on the Shoemaker tribute, see the UA News Services
>release of Jan. 6, 1998, "Lunar spacecraft carries ashes, special tribute to
>Shoemaker," at
>View the tribute online at
>Larson's Comet Hale-Bopp image is available by FTP to host server
> with anonymous login (email as password).

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