To date, no astronaut has set foot on the far side of the moon, but that can’t be said for man-made instruments. After more than six months of searching, NASA has finally spotted a crater on the moon that is unlike the rest. It was created by them.
The crater was made by NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft when it purposely impacted the far side of the moon on April 18, 2014.
That was more than 6 months ago, and although they had a good idea of where the crater was, scientists had no photographic evidence to confirm their estimates, until now.
The problem? Finding a small impact crater on the moon is kind of like finding a needle in a hay stack because the surface of the moon, especially the far side, is pockmarked with craters of all sizes. That’s why it took NASA the better half of a year to discover LADEE’s resting place, which is on the eastern rim of Sundman V crater — within 1000 feet from where the LADEE team had predicted!
NASA engineers are, without doubt, the rockstars of the scientific community because at the end of their mission, they get to demolish their spacecraft just like rockstars destroy their guitars at the end of a show. The reason NASA finally laid LADEE to rest was because she had used up most of her fuel and could no longer continue scientific operations.
When the LADEE spacecraft hit the lunar surface, it was travelling 3600 miles per hour. That’s more than fast enough to do some damage to the surface but not nearly as fast as most impact objects from space. This means that the spacecraft’s crater is especially small — about 10 feet in diameter.
Although the LADEE team had estimated where the spacecraft landed, the small impact it made took some new technology to finally discover.
A new computer tool developed by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera team now enables scientists to see before and after images of the lunar surface. The tool’s first test was to spot LADEE’s impact crater.
Below is an image of the spacecraft’s landing spot before and after the impact. Considering that crater is only 10 feet wide, it’s a pretty amazing accomplishment to see this tiny blemish on the moon.
NASA launched LADEE on Sept. 6, 2013. LADEE’s mission was to study what little atmosphere the moon has and determine whether meteor impacts kick up lingering dust into the atmosphere. The spacecraft didn’t find any dust in the atmosphere, but did successfully test some new communication technology.
LADEE was NASA’s first attempt to try out two-way communication using optical lasers instead of radio waves. Their ambitious attempt paid off, and LADEE had record-breaking upload and download speeds during its run.
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