Archive for November, 2009

Water On the Moon

Experts have long suspected there was water on the moon. Confirmation came from data churned up by two Nasa spacecraft that intentionally slammed into a lunar crater last month.

“Indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn’t find just a little bit. We found a significant amount,” said Anthony Colaprete, the principal investigator for Nasa’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, holding up a white water bucket for emphasis.

The lunar crash kicked up at least 95 liters (25 gallons) and that’s only what scientists could see from the plumes of the impact, Colaprete said.

Some space policy experts say that makes the moon attractive for exploration again. Having an abundance of water would make it easier to set up a base camp for astronauts, supplying drinking water and a key ingredient for rocket fuel.

Scientists also hope that the water, in the form of ice accumulated over billions of years, holds a record of the solar system’s history.

The satellite, known as Lcross (pronounced L-cross), crashed into a crater near the Moon’s south pole a month ago. The 9,000-kilometers-per-hour impact carved out a hole 20 to 30 meters wide and kicked up the liters of water in the forms of ice and vapor.

The water findings came through an analysis of the slight shifts in color after the impact, showing telltale signs of water molecules that had absorbed specific wavelengths of light. “We got good fits,” Colaprete said. “It was a unique fit.”

For more than a decade, planetary scientists have seen tantalizing hints of water ice at the bottom of these cold craters where the sun never shines. The Lcross mission, intended to look specifically for water, was made up of two pieces—an empty rocket stage to slam into the floor of Cabeus, a crater about 70 km wide and 3 km deep, and a small spacecraft to measure what was kicked up. In the event, the small craft also hit the surface.

“It’s very exciting, it is painting a new image of the moon,” said Gregory Deloy, from the University of California, hailing it as “an extraordinary discovery.”

He theorized that “one of the possible source of water is a comet.”

“We’re unlocking the mysteries of our nearest neighbor and, by extension, the solar system,” said Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist at Nasa headquarters in Washington.