An eagle-eyed NASA spacecraft has spotted the tiny craters two moon probes created when they crashed intentionally into the lunar surface last year.
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) snapped a series of photographs of the two 16.5-foot-wide (5 meters) craters, which mark where the space agency's twin Grail probes ended their gravity-mapping mission, and their operational lives, on Dec. 17.
"It was really fun to find the craters," Mark Robinson of Arizona State University, principal investigator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), said today (March 19) during a press conference at the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.
It's a bit of a surprise that the LROC team was able to find the craters at all, Robinson added. LRO orbits the moon at an altitude of about 100 miles (160 kilometers), and the craters are small, nondescript features on a body riddled with impact scars. (Grail Probes' Final Moments (Video))
The two Grail spacecraft -- known as Ebb and Flow -- slammed into a mountain near the lunar north pole at 3,771 mph (6,070 km/h), striking the surface about 20 seconds apart. They were running out of fuel and were bound to crash at some point, so the Grail team brought them down in a controlled fashion away from areas of historical importance such as the Apollo landing sites.