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ESA celebrates SMART's lunar smash

Deep impact?

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Europe's first lunar probe made its crash landing yesterday in the Moon's Lake of Excellence region at 0542 GMT (0642 BST).

The European Space Agency said the landing was the conclusion of a very successful mission.

The SMART-1 probe was designed to test innovative space technologies, such as its ion-engine propulsion system. It also tested future deep-space communication techniques for spacecraft, techniques to achieve autonomous navigation, and miniaturised scientific instruments.

It has also carried out extended observations of the moon. Its analysis of the make-up of the lunar surface has posed questions that will eventually refine theories about how the moon was formed.

ESA says the mission has been worthwhile scientifically and technologically. ESA director of science professor David Southwood commented: "It seems that right now everyone in the world is planning on going to the Moon. Future scientific missions will greatly benefit from the technological and operational experience gained thanks to this small spacecraft, while the set of scientific data gathered by SMART-1 is already helping to update our current picture of the Moon."

The timing and location of the landing were carefully chosen to optimise the viewing conditions for observers on Earth. The Lake of Excellence was on the moon's dark side when the probe hit, gently lit by scattered Earth light.

ESA says the ground based observations went well. The France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT), a 3.6 metre optical/infrared telescope located atop the summit of Mauna Kea on Hawaii was watching the impact.

The flash of the impact, possibly caused by a puff of dust being thrown up by the probe smacking into the ground, seems to have lasted less than a second. The flash could also have been from the last of the spaceship's fuel escaping as it hit. ®

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