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NASA probes crash into the moon after mapping its surface

Two NASA spacecraft have ended their mission by intentionally crashing into the moon. The probes had taken images of the lunar surface, creating the highest resolution gravity map ever gathered from a celestial body.

Two NASA probes dubbed Ebb and Flow crashed into the moon on Monday after spending months gathering data by orbiting above the lunar surface, the US space agency said.

The probes slammed into a mountain near the moon's north pole at 22:28 GMT and 22:29 GMT while traveling a staggering 3,760 miles per hour (1.7 kilometers per second) after engineers commanded the spacecraft to fire their engines and burn their remaining fuel.

The site where the probes crashed will be named the Sally K. Ride Impact Site after astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.

The spacecrafts were part of the GRAIL mission, which Ride also participated in by leading the mission's MoonKam project for students from around the world to choose targets for the probes' cameras.

During their work life the probes took more than 115,000 images of the lunar surface, generating the highest resolution gravity map ever collected from a celestial body.

The map will help provide a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed and evolved, according to scientists.

Launched in September 2011, Ebb and Flow had been orbiting the moon since January 1, mapping the lunar gravity field by flying at low altitudes above the surface.

"We will miss our lunar twins, but the scientists tell me it will take years to analyze all the great data they got, and that is why we came to the moon in the first place," said GRAIL project manager David Lehman of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"So long, Ebb and Flow, and we thank you."

The $500 million (379.5 million euros) GRAIL mission was the 110th moon exploration mission.

hc/dr (AP, AFP)