On the heels of a natural crater recently discovered by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a human-made crater was also imaged this week. LADEE, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, spent several months studying the exosphere, or thin, tenuous atmosphere, around the Moon. LADEE searched for, and did not find, high altitude dust that had been argued over since the days of the Apollo missions. It was sent on a controlled descent to the Moon’s surface in April after it had expended nearly all of its fuel. A small, fuel-emptied craft makes a fairly small crater, so the LRO images barely resolve the crater itself with is less than 3 meters in diameter. The team divided the before and after images of the region to see the change in the surface, mainly a triangular spray of ejecta pointing in the direction from which the spacecraft came that the spacecraft was traveling. (Correction 10/31. Thanks, Brenda S!)
Why do we intentionally crash spacecraft into the surface of a planetary body when it is done anyway? It seems like littering, but it’s best to crash it where we know it is rather than let it come down on its own. We’ve already made a bit of a mess of our own planet’s orbital space, so it’s probably best not to make that a situation to deal with for other bodies.