MYSTERY OF THE MISSING PLUMES: NASA scientists are grappling with a mystery. What did the debris go? Last Friday morning, Oct. 9th, the water-seeking LCROSS spacecraft and its Centaur booster rocket crashed into the floor of crater Cabeus near the Moon's south pole, on time and on target. But the debris plumes that were supposed to issue from the impacts failed to materialize. Consider this image recorded 15 seconds after the Centaur impact by the Palomar Observatory's 200-inch Hale telescope:
Cabeus crater is located in the center, behind the large bright mountain. Plumes of shattered spacecraft and lunar soil should have emerged into sunlight from the shadows, but even Palomar's sensitive adaptive optics system registered nothing.
The absence of debris plumes does not mean LCROSS was a failure. On the contrary, by offering up the unexpected, LCROSS is teaching us something new about the lunar surface and the products of lunar impacts. That makes it, by definition, a successful experiment. All that remains is to figure out what the new information is. Researchers will be announcing their findings in the days and weeks.
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