Images capture resting spots of spacecraft Ebb and Flow

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LOS ANGELES -- When NASA's twin spacecraft Ebb and Flow crashed into the moon last year, scientists did not count on seeing the aftermath.

Yesterday, the space agency released before-and-after pictures of the lunar north pole where Ebb and Flow came to rest. Months after the back-to-back, mission-ending dives, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter flew over the crash sites and imaged the final resting spots.

Ebb and Flow broke into smithereens upon impact and pinpointing the small craters they carved was difficult, said Arizona State University researcher Mark Robinson, who operates the orbiter's camera.

Even the mission's chief scientist, Maria Zuber, was surprised when she saw the impact sites, which looked like dots. "I was expecting to see skid tracks," said Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ebb and Flow deliberately plunged into a lunar mountain in December after mapping the moon's gravity field in unprecedented detail. The site was chosen because it was far away from the Apollo landings and other historic sites.

The finale occurred in the dark, so telescopes from Earth did not capture it. Even the reconnaissance orbiter had to wait until sunlight streamed to the northern lunar region.

Launched in 2011, the spacecraft spent nearly a year flying in formation, collecting gravitational data. Scientists are still poring over the last chunk of data beamed back before their demise. -- AP

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