European Lunar Mission to Go Out With a Bang

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Europe’s first mission to the moon is due to crash-land in a cloud of dust and rock late today, ending a three-year voyage that gathered data about the lunar surface and tested a new engine intended to propel spacecraft to Mercury and other planets.

The European Space Agency’s SMART-1, orbiting lower and lower as it makes its final approach at 4,475 mph, should hit its target on a volcanic plain called the Lake of Excellence at 10:41 p.m. PDT. Observatories on Earth will try to capture images of the impact and the resulting debris cloud, and European space officials hope it will provide information about the minerals present at the impact site.

The cloud may be visible with amateur telescopes.