New Photos: Lunar Probe Spies Earth and Moon
A compilation of visible and infrared images taken by LCROSS on August 17, 2009 of the Earth and its moon. North and the direction of the Sun are indicated by arrows.
Credit: NASA Ames

A NASA spacecraft has snapped new views of the Earth together with its moon, which the spacecraft is scheduled to slam into in October.

The pictures were taken about a week and a half before a malfunction caused LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) to burn more than half of its remaining propellant.

The $79 million LCROSS is carrying an empty Centaur rocket stage, which has about the same mass as a sports utility vehicle and will be slammed into the lunar surface on Oct. 9. The goal is to hit one of the shadowed craters found at the lunar south pole to see if water ice can be found there, as some scientists suspect.

The new images were taken with the probe's visible light context camera while LCROSS was flying about 323,296 miles (520,294 km) from the Earth and 547,335 miles (880,850 km) from the moon. The Earth appears as a luminous crescent in the images.

A single image was also taken with the probe's mid-infrared camera , which revealed the Earth and moon in false-color hues.

The probe's companion, NASA?s powerful Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, will map the lunar surface in unprecedented detail.

LCROSS is orbiting Earth twice on a long, elliptical route before it takes its suicidal plunge, and is using that time to take a few snapshots of the planet that launched it.

The propellant malfunction means that LCROSS is dangerously close to its fuel limits, which will likely mean that mission managers have to cancel some planned activities that are not crucial to the mission.

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This story was updated to correct the distance between LCROSS and the Earth at the time the new images were taken.