Scouring the surface: Ejecta dynamics and the LCROSS impact event

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The Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission (LCROSS) impacted the moon in a permanently shadowed region of Cabeus crater on October 9th 2009, excavating material rich in water ice and volatiles. The thermal and spatial evolution of LCROSS ejecta is essential to interpretation of regolith properties and sources of released volatiles. The unique conditions of the impact, however, made analysis of the data based on canonical ejecta models impossible. Here we present the results of a series of impact experiments performed at the NASA Ames Vertical Gun Range designed to explore the LCROSS event using both high-speed cameras and LCROSS flight backup instruments. The LCROSS impact created a two-component ejecta plume: the usual inverted lampshade " low-angle" curtain, and a high speed, high-angle component. These separate components excavated to different depths in the regolith. Extrapolations from experiments match the visible data and the light curves in the spectrometers. The hollow geometry of the Centaur led to the formation of the high-angle plume, as was evident in the LCROSS visible and infrared measurements of the ejecta. Subsequent ballistic return of the sunlight-warmed ejecta curtain could scour the surface out to many crater radii, possibly liberating loosely bonded surface volatiles (e.g., H 2). Thermal imaging reveals a complex, heterogeneous distribution of heated material after crater formation that is present but unresolved in LCROSS data. This material could potentially serve as an additional source of energy for volatile release. © 2012 Elsevier Inc.




Hermalyn, B., Schultz, P. H., Shirley, M., Ennico, K., & Colaprete, A. (2012). Scouring the surface: Ejecta dynamics and the LCROSS impact event. Icarus, 218(1), 654–665.

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