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NASA confirms the existence of water on the moon

NASA confirms the existence of water on the moon

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NASA on Friday said that it had unequivocally found water on the moon, beginning "a new chapter" that may allow for the development of a lunar space station.

NASA on Friday said that it had unequivocally found water on the moon, beginning "a new chapter" that may allow for the development of a lunar space station.

Preliminary data from the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, indicates that the October 2009 mission successfully uncovered water during impact near the moon’s south pole.

(SmartPlanet previously covered the LCROSS mission here, here and here.)

The point of the $79 million mission was to slam spacecraft into the moon's surface to cause a plume of debris that could be analyzed for signs pointing to the existence of water.

Scientists have long speculated about the source of vast quantities of hydrogen found at the lunar poles. (Hydrogen is a building block of water.)

The LCROSS findings, largely taken from the satellite's spectrometers, revealed that "water was present in both the high angle vapor plume and the ejecta curtain created by the LCROSS Centaur impact," according to the agency.

In other words, the moon crater that was slammed into by the NASA spacecraft holds water.

The team proved this by taking the known near infrared spectral signatures of water and other materials and comparing them to the spectra collected by the LCROSS near infrared spectrometer of the impact.

"We were only able to match the spectra from LCROSS data when we inserted the spectra for water," said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., in a statement. "No other reasonable combination of other compounds that we tried matched the observations. The possibility of contamination from the Centaur also was ruled out."

An emission in the ultraviolet spectrum was attributed to hydroxyl, a byproduct of sunlight breaking up water. The emission matched that of a vapor cloud in sunlight, NASA said.

Researchers are still poring over data, but the results are clear: water, the most valuable substance on our planet, exists on the Moon.

Where did it come from? It's unclear. It could be from solar winds, comets, giant molecular clouds or perhaps even the moon itself.

Either way, the findings means two things: first, better insight into the history and evolution of the solar system; second, resources to sustain future lunar exploration.

Here's CBS News with more coverage:

You can follow NASA's LCROSS mission on Twitter.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure