By Deborah Gage
Posting in Government
Not only is there more water than NASA scientists first thought, but it's more accessible, which is a good sign for future human and robotic trips to the moon
NASA today unveiled the latest data collected by its LCROSS (Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite) and LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) missions, which launched 16 months ago from Cape Canaveral, and it's full of interesting news.
Remember that LCROSS (pictured at right) crashed last October into a crater near the moon's South Pole, throwing up a 10-mile-high plume of material that may have been in shadow for billions of years.
LRO, meanwhile, is still orbiting and mapping the moon. It carries seven different instruments that measure temperature, radiation, ultra-violet light and other characteristics of the moon.
If you know enough science, you can read about today's findings in the journal Science, where six separate papers will be published this week. If not, you can go to NASA's Web site, where there's a series of videos and images that explain these discoveries in simpler terms.
The gist, however, is that the plume of debris that LCROSS threw up not only had water ice, but also volatile chemicals -- methane, ammonia, hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide -- and some light metals, including sodium, mercury and maybe silver.
This mixture could be the remnants of a comet crash, NASA says, but it also shows that the moon is chemically active and has a water cycle, in which water reacts with particles of lunar soil.
The material was like "fluffy, snow-covered dirt," said NASA's chief lunar scientist, Michael Wargo, in a press briefing today, and the LRO's instruments show that areas outside of the moon's shadowed regions may be cold enough to have snowy dirt too.
This is good news for future moon missions. "Rather than having to brave cold and dark conditions, we could land in an area adjacent (to the shadowed parts) where the sun is shining and dig a small distance below the surface to get the ice," said Dave Paige of UCLA, the principal investigator for LRO's Diviner instrument.
Added Wargo, "Once you make a discovery of a potential resource, the next thing you do is go prospecting and try to understand whether the resource is an ore -- a valuable commodity."
The moon also has some of the coldest places in the solar system, LRO has discovered -- as cold as the objects in the Kuiper Belt at the outer edge of the solar system. One spot measured 29 degrees above absolute zero, Paige said, and three percent of the moon's surface is cold enough to keep water ice frozen indefinitely.
One next step is to figure out more precisely where the water ice is located on the moon and "How far do I have to walk before I find it," said Tony Colaprete, the LCROSS project scientist at NASA Ames. If a 10-kilometer area around the LCROSS crash site had 5 percent water, that would be the equivalent of a billion gallons, he said.
Another next step is to analyze the area below the snowy dirt for clues to "ancient processes that may have affected the evolution of the earth and the moon," Colaprete said. "It's like quarrying ice on the poles of the earth, but we can learn so much more."
To what extent NASA will be in charge of new moon missions remains to be seen, though, since the agency has been directed by Congress to work more closely with the private sector.
Wargo said LRO is making "the highest resolution and most capable maps of the moon ever made," and they could help identify appropriate landing sites for future missions.
(FROM NASA: The picture above is a surface temperature map of the south polar region of the moon made by Diviner. The data were acquired during September and October 2009 when south polar temperatures were close to their annual maximum values. The map shows the locations of several intensely cold impact craters that are potential cold traps for water ice as well as a range of other icy compounds commonly observed in comets. The approximate maximum temperatures at which these compounds would be frozen in place for more than a billion years is shown next to the scale on the right. The LCROSS spacecraft was targeted to impact one of the coldest of these craters, and many of these compounds were observed in the ejecta plume.
Image credit: UCLA/NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif./Goddard)
(Disclosure: my son-in-law is a scientist working on LRO Diviner)
Oct 21, 2010
The Sciensits are looking for a place where they can start a new life, in-case the Earth Colapes with any other star, But keeping in mind that will never colaps but will change its root & off-coarse the moon will follow it. there will be no life remaining on earth. It will be the last day of Earth. Earth will be turn to dusty planet and will go towards sun for thousand of the years and will stop at the distance of couple of feets. It will be the day of Justiss. Pervez Iqbal email@example.com
Wow, these comments were? disheartening. @mario They didn't freeze to death because they had temperature controlled suits. What, you thought they arrived in bermuda shorts and tank tops? @glen How about you post your credentials, so we can determine who the "baffoon" (whatever that is) really is. I somehow think I'll side with the president on that one. I suspect I would say the same thing, even if he were a 12 year old remedial ed student. @remjr First, the water is frozen. Salt is expelled from the lattice of frozen water, so it's salt content will be negligible, regardless of its origin. Second, sodium chloride and other salts are plentiful, so even if it WERE liquid, its salt content would say nothing of its origin. @lamukadam Huh?!? First, what the heck is "Sweet water"? Second, how will water on the moon help with agriculture here on earth. Third, and perhaps more importantly, we have more than enough water here on earth to feed the entire population. In fact, the US alone has all the resources necessary to feed the ENTIRE worl population several times over. Total water availability is not, and never was, the issue. The issues revolve around politics and geography more than resources.
The discovery of water on the moon is fantastic news. I hope it is sweet water. We should be able to grow all our fruits and vegitables and feed all the inhabitants of this world. There should be no excuse for people going hungary. We can feed the world now.
the moon dust brought back was not from the polar regions, and it was surface dust. exposed areas away from the poles bakes in the unfiltered sun for 28 days, volatilizing these lighter elements. It was found to have no hydrogen or carbon containing compounds at all, or light metals, as billions of years of reaching hundreds of degrees in a vacuum baked them out.
I'm sure sooner or later somebody will figure a way to bottle this Lunar Water and sell it on Earth to extravagant Capitalists for some astronomical (pun intended) amount of money!
I would think that If the water is salt water, then it adds credence that the moon is actually a chunk of the earth that was sheared off in an asteroid collision.
Luckily for those that landed on the moon they managed to avoid freezing too death:) I guess they already knew where to land. P.S. haven't they already analyzed moon dust brought back form those past human lunar missions to determine elements? Therefore this should already be known.