NOTE: You can read the latest about NASA’s LCROSS impacts on the Moon here.
Astronomers using one of the world’s largest telescopes captured the brilliant explosion as the Kaguya spacecraft slammed into the Moon.
Jeremy Bailey and colleague Steve Lee used the 3.9-metre (153-inch) Anglo-Australian Telescope in New South Wales to record a bright flash marking the impact of the Japan space agency JAXA’s robotic probe.
The crash, at around 4.25am local time today in New South Wales, happened on the unlit, dark side of the Moon, close to the edge of the side illuminated by sunlight, called the terminator.
A mountain peak can be seen shining brightly in the pictures as it is caught by the rising sun over that region of the Moon. The impact flash is visible to the lower right of that peak in the photo sequence, taken with an infrared camera.
The probe, flying at nearly 4,000 mph, collided at a shallow angle which was expected to send it skipping across the lunar surface like a pebble on a pond.
Kaguya, which was named after a legendary lunar princess, was launched in September 2007 and has been in orbit around the Moon collecting data including the first HD TV images. Previously known as Selene, it carried no fuel and the brilliant explosion was caused purely by the energy of the impact.
NASA is due to launch a new unmanned probe next Wednesday that will fire a missile into a crater near the Moon’s south pole in October.
The polar region is being considered as a site for a manned landing and scientists want to check if there is any water in the craters’ permanent shadows.
Picture: A sequence of images shows the bright flash as Kaguya strikes the Moon. (Photo: Jeremy Bailey, Steve Lee, Anglo-Australian Observatory).
• Discover space for yourself and do fun science with a telescope. Here is Skymania’s advice on how to choose a telescope. We also have a guide to the different types of telescope available.