LUNAR IMPACT ALERT!
Update at 2300 BST: See the bright flash from the impact in the image below:
Observers using the Anglo-Australian Telescope took this series of 1-second exposures, each taken0.6-seconds apart, around the predicted time of impact. A bright flash can be seen in the second image (centre of frame), and faintly in the third and fourth as well.
Japan’s SELENE-Kaguya spacecraft will crash into the Moon on tonight, around 19:30 BST.
Kaguya is a big object. It weighes in at around 2,900 kg and will hit the Moon at an slightly oblique angle traveling at nearly 4000 mph. Whether it tumbles and bounces along the lunar surface or runs headlong into some towering crater wall, no one can say for sure yet. Clues to the end of Kaguya will come in the form of an explosive flash (or lack thereof) and high-res images of the crash site taken by future lunar orbiters.
The impact is not accidental. The Japanese space agency, JAXA, has long planned to end the mission in this fashion. Kaguya has been in lunar orbit since October of 2007. It has has searched dark craters for evidence of frozen water, and mapped the moon’s gravitational field. It has also carried an HD television camera (partly funded by NHK – Japan’s version of the BBC) and taken some of the all-time greatest pictures of the lunar surface.
However, the timing favours observers in Asia and Australasia, who might be able to see a flash of light or a plume of debris rising from the Moon’s southeastern limb. Images of the impact, if any are captured, will be posted here.