At 2:25 this afternoon, Eastern time, Japan's Kaguya lunar orbiter will smash into the moon, its maneuvering fuel nearly spent and its two-year mission ended. I'll miss it. Kaguya has been the most media-friendly of the new lunar missions launched to date, returning beautiful, elegant photos and movies of the lunar surface.
The video below was recorded in April, as Kaguya's orbit was getting progressively lower in preparation for the end. Skimming along at an altitude of just under seven miles, Kaguya was lower than Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were when they began their powered descent to the surface inside the lunar module Eagle in 1969.
You can see more of these Kaguya films here. And this viewer will let you track the spacecraft's orbit to the bitter end (click on the "Lunar Satellite Orbits 3D" box at left, and choose the Current Position Display). As I write this, four hours before impact, the low point of the orbit is just 15,600 feet above the moon. Sad.
The good news is that NASA's even better Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter launches a week from today. More about that in my next post...