Tuesday, September 05, 2006

SMART-1 Makes a Sudden Impact

A few days ago, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) SMART-1 space probe was deliberately crashed into the lunar surface in the region of the Lake of Excellence. The reason was for the destruction of the probe was to study the plume generated by the impact in hopes of using ground based telescopes to analyze the chemical composition of the lunar material that was ejected. Everything seemed to be going along fine until about 45 minutes prior to the scheduled impact at 46.2º West longitude and 33.3º South latitude (note the “ritual” qualities of that location).

At that point, message boards monitoring the spacecraft reported a sudden and unexpected loss of signal from the orbiter. Images from the ESA control room showed a complete lack of data return from the spacecraft. This outage lasted more than 3 minutes before communications were just as suddenly restored.

Normally, this not would be such a big deal, but there was never any explanation from ESA regarding the 3-minute blackout. No mention of the cause, not even a guess. A few hours after the impact, a neat set of "live" infrared CCD views from the Canadian-French-Hawaiian 3.6-meter Telescope on Hawaii were posted on the CFHT official website. These three images showed a before impact image, an impact image showing a very bright flash, and an after impact image. Our (Richard C. Hoagland’s and mine) suspicions had been raised by the odd communications blackout, and in examining the three images something seemed “off.” The three images are virtual clones of each other, the only difference being the bright flash at the point of impact in one of them. Now, the moons illumination doesn’t change much from moment to moment – it rotates very slowly – but the “after” image (taken 15 seconds later) should have shown something different, even just a rough impact area or the remnants of the plume. The impact was expected to leave a 3m by 10m crater on the Moon, spreading debris over 78 sq km (30 sq miles). The smart impact page shows an animation of the plume rising from the impact, but curiously this is not one of the still images presented.

One thought on this is that maybe something happened around that three minute loss of contact window. Something really strange. Perhaps something similar to Surveyor 4, which Hoagland has alleged splattered against the towering lunar glass structures he has documented over the years. So maybe, SMART-1 met a similar demise, and these images are just Photoshopped to avoid uncomfortable questions about the probes real fate.

Just a thought.

Certainly, we’ll know if they release the spectral data on a timely basis whether or not they got any legitimate information from the impact.


Blogger Gary7 said...

As usual, the public was left out of the loop on SMART-1. I thought I read at one time how we were going to see high res images from SMART-1. As far as images, they released a few, most of which appeared to have anomalies in them, but were too poor in resolution to subject to any analysis. Now they have done a “sandbox” experiment to simulate impact, the spacecraft theoretically made an elongated crater and a dust cloud. They seem baffled by the way it crashed. The impact animation on the ESA site isn’t very conclusive. Interesting that they used sand, huh? I wouldn't expect that spectral data any time soon, just a guess. I agree with your thought, they could be trying to smash the probe into those artifacts on purpose, for secret spectral analysis on them.

11:01 AM  

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