A group of die-hard New York stargazers met this morning in Inwood, in the northernmost tip of Manhattan near Spuyten Duyvil Creek, to watch the LCROSS lunar probe crash into the surface of the moon. The mission’s objective is to see if there is water on the moon.
Jason Kendall, the founder and Director of the Inwood Astronomy Project, organized the outing, which was part of the International Year of Astronomy. It was attended by about 40 people who started gathering around 3:30 AM at the baseball fields across from the Indian Road Market & Cafe.
“There are people here from all walks of life. Engineers, small kids, it’s great!” notes Kendall. The plan was to do some general star gazing with telescopes before the impact, which couldn’t be seen on the East Coast (the sun was already up by 7:30), before heading to the café to watch the crash on NASA TV. Alas, clouds ruined the stellar view this morning, but Kendall maintains that despite New Yorkers’ assumption to the contrary, there can be some great star gazing from the city, and events like these are good opportunities for New Yorkers to get excited about space.
“This is our first step in getting back to the moon,” he says. “It crosses all ethnicities and races, it crosses language, and it’s all the new rage. It’s the next big thing to be be a geek!” Although Kendall works at Cantor Fitzgerald by day, he’s got a Master’s in Astronomy and “moonlights” as a NASA/JPL Ambassador to the Solar System.
“Isn’t that a funny title?” he says laughing, clarifying that he’s one of a 500 volunteers who help NASA spread the word to the public about what they’re up to in space. He was thrilled with the initial results of the actual lunar impact, which his group watched live from the space craft’s point of view.
“It wasn’t like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, with cars flying around,” he said of the impact plume, which made the screen go totally white. Still, the first impact “was like a truck traveling at the speed of a bullet, hitting the surface of the moon” at 7:30 AM EDT. The second spacecraft is “analyzing the reflective light from the [first spacecraft’s] impact plume, and that will show us if there is water on the moon.” It hit at 7:35.
According to Kendall, right now that impact plume is also being analyzed by “amateur observers and professionals on earth, as well as by the Hubble, and the Spitzer Infrared” in space.
“Yes, Spitzer, as in Eliot Spitzer,” said Kendall. “Except, it’s an infrared space telescope, and not a philandering politician.”
Want to know more about the moon, if there is water on it, and what that means for humans’ future in space and our species’ place in the universe? Check out Kendall’s lecture at 1:00 PM this Saturday at the New York Public Library’s Inwood Branch.