Water on the moon: Researchers confirm widespread ice
Probes confirm that traces of ice on the moon, though scant, are widespread.
Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 12:38 PM
Left: NASA’s Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter. Right: Color-coded image charts the the moon's surface, with blue areas indicating strongest evidence of ice. (Photo: NASA/Science)
For decades, scientists have insisted that there’s no trace of water on the moon -- but new evidence reveals that they were wrong. NASA has confirmed the presence of lunar polar ice across the moon’s surface, with the strongest indications found in the coldest spots on the north and south poles.
Though samples of lunar rocks brought back by Apollo astronauts contained trace amounts of water, contamination from Earth was assumed because the containers in which the rocks were carried had leaked.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), NASA’s new Mini Cooper-sized $540 million moon orbiter, made measurements of space radiation in the lunar environment and found widespread signs of water, with indications of ice and hydrogen in permanently shadowed areas. There’s even some evidence that hydrogen may be present in other areas.
Those findings were confirmed by similar observations made by Indian space probe Chandrayaan 1’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper, NASA’s Deep Impact probe and archived data from the international Cassini spacecraft.
"The Deep Impact observations of the moon not only unequivocally confirm the presence of [water/hydroxyl] on the lunar surface, but also reveal that the entire lunar surface is hydrated during at least some portion of the lunar day," wrote the authors of the study published in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.
The results come just weeks ahead of the planned lunar impact of NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), which will touch down on one of the craters at the moon’s south poles with the goal of finding evidence of water ice deposits in the debris field.
The findings don’t mean that the moon has enough water to sustain life, however. Experts say that despite trace amounts of water, the moon is still drier than any desert on earth. Still, it may be a boon to future lunar bases as a potential source of drinking water and fuel.