Modeling The Vapor And Dust Dynamics Due To The Impact Of The Lcross Spacecraft On The Moon
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The implications of possibly large volatile reservoirs on the Moon are significant for the future of manned activity there and for space science and exploration in general. In autumn of 2008 NASA will launch the LCROSS mission to impact two spacecraft into a permanently shadowed crater-a cold trap - at the south pole of the Moon. The lead spacecraft will excavate its own several meter crater. The process will be observed by the following smaller vehicle and by orbiting and Earth-based instruments in hopes of observing the release of volatiles-predominantly water -- from the lunar soil. The following vehicle will then impact as well. We examine the plausible vapor dynamics following the impacts and concentrate on the observability of the gas from Earth or lunar orbit. In the free-molecular computational model of the vapor motion, water and OH molecules move ballistically, have a temperature-dependent surface residence time, and are subject to photo-dissociation and ionization losses. Sunlight shadowing, separation of the vapor from the dust grains, dust thermodynamics and different impact plume models are considered.