10 October 2009

Throwin' rocks

I remember chucking rocks at all sorts of things when I was a kid. Dirt clods, too. And baseballs, of course, and tennis balls and super balls and basketballs and whatnot. You could bounce stuff off walls and fences and dirt infields and blacktop playgrounds. You could splatter stuff at the forts the neighboring squads had set up for the endless games of "war." Or skip stones in the bay, or toss driftwood into the muck at low tide. It just seemed like that's how a kid found out about the world. Well, maybe this kid. Some things you hit were OK to hit, and some you were glad you missed. But in the end, the brain had a catalog of collisions, a trial-and-error knowledge base, an empircally-derived picture of the man-nature interface. In short, science. I was thinking about science and throwin' rocks when I read about NASA's LCROSS mission. It was a high-tech, 21st-century version of throwin' rocks! A spacecraft booster and its payload crashed into Cabeus crater near the moon's south pole early Friday morning. The dust plume analysis will--NASA hopes--reveal the presence of lunar water. Imagine a quarter-million mile rock toss just to figure out what's there! I think it's fantastic.

(p.s. The Soviet Union's Luna 2 was the first man-made object to crash on the moon. That happened fifty years ago, on 13 September 1959, two months before I was born.)

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