Kaguya, Japan’s lunar orbiter, has concluded its mission with a concussion. The mission, which created a new set of gravity maps and also mapped the surface in HDTV, was scheduled to crash at 3:25 am local time in Japan, or 2:25 pm Eastern Daylight Time today in the US. Telescopes across Asia and Australia peered into night-time skies for a glimpse of the impact. The expected site, at 80 degrees east longitude and 66 degrees south in latitude, is shown here, as mapped by the European Space Agency’s SMART-1 satellite, which itself fell to its end in 2006.
But Kaguya’s crash heralds a much bigger one yet to come — one that may turn up water along with dust. On Thursday, NASA is set to launch Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter along with its sister mission, LCROSS. In the autumn, that mission will send a 2,300 impactor — an empty rocket stage — into the shadowed parts of craters near the south pole where some scientists suspect ice may persist.