A pair of identical probes orbiting the moon
for nearly a year will be sent crashing into the lunar surface on
Monday after completing their scientific mission, NASA said Thursday.
The probes, nicknamed Ebb and Flow, are being prepared for what NASA called a "controlled descent and impact" on a mountain near the moon's north pole. NASA set the time of the crash as 2228 Monday GMT.
"It is going to be difficult to say goodbye," said Maria Zuber, principal investigator of the project known as the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL).
Zuber said the goal of the 496-million-dollar mission was to unlock the secrets of the interior of the moon.
The probes - Ebb first, then Flow 20 second later - will hit the surface of the moon traveling 1.7 kilometres per second, NASA said. No photos of the impact will be made because the region will be in shadow at the time.
The two probes, each about the size of a washing machine, began flying in formation around the moon on January 1. Their prime mission was to generate a gravity field map that NASA says will provide a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed and evolved.
Ebb and Flow were able to detect minute changes in the distance between them as they flew over lunar mountains, craters and other topography, according to space.com. Scientists used these ultra-precise measurements to construct a map of the lunar gravity field.
The map reveals that the moon's crust is almost completely pulverized, suggesting the moon was pounded by impacts far more violently than previously believed, researchers said last week during the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, according to space.com.
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