MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has confirmed, for the first time, water on the sunlit surface of the Moon. This discovery indicates that water may be distributed across the lunar surface, and not limited to cold, shadowed places.
SOFIA has detected water molecules (H2O) in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth, located in the Moon’s southern hemisphere. Previous observations of the Moon’s surface detected some form of hydrogen, but were unable to distinguish between water and its close chemical relative, hydroxyl (OH). Data from this location reveal water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million – roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water – trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread across the lunar surface. The results are published in the latest issue of Nature Astronomy.
Apollo 17 moon walker Harrison “Jack” Schmitt was in Vienna addressing the Austrian Academy of Sciences on Wednesday, saying that many challenges remain despite NASA’s discovery of water on the moon. The Chinese Xinhua news agency reports:
However, he pointed out that that was not enough to promote the establishment of lunar manned station. In his view, the key issue about water on the moon was not its scarcity but rather how to use it.
The Wall Street Journal has an interesting interview with Timothy G. Nelson, an international arbitration lawyer in New York who advises aerospace companies on how to make profits in space.
He says to forget about the Moon Treaty, which only 13 nations have signed, and instead to focus on the Law of the Sea as a model for how lunar resources (such as water and minerals) would be extracted and sold.
While the results obtained from the LCROSS mission are of some scientific interest, it needs to be understood that the amount of water discovered was extremely small. The 30 m crater ejected by the probe contained 10 million kilograms of regolith. Within this ejecta, an estimated 100 kg of water was detected. That represents a proportion of 10 parts per million, which is a lower water concentration than that found in the soil of the driest deserts of the Earth. In contrast, we have found continent sized regions on Mars, which are 600,000 parts per million, or 60% water by weight.
With NASA’s confirmation today of water on the moon, the folks over at the X Prize Foundation have leaped forward to explain what it all means with two blog postings and a press release. To sum up briefly, it is a “game-changing discovery” that makes the south pole of the moon the “most valuable real estate in the solar system” and will “lead to new era of lunar exploration.”
At a press conference this morning in California, NASA scientists announced that they had discovered a significant amount of water buried under the seemingly dry lunar surface.
Officials at the NASA Ames Research Center revealed preliminary findings from the LCROSS mission, which last month slammed a Centaur upper stage into the Cabeus crater at the moon’s south pole. Measurements of the resulting plume were taken by a trailing vehicle, NASA’s LRO lunar orbiter, and other spacecraft.
The Moon is a big sponge that absorbs electrically charged particles given out by the Sun. These particles interact with the oxygen present in some dust grains on the lunar surface, producing water. This discovery, made by the ESA-ISRO instrument SARA onboard the Indian Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter, confirms how water is likely being created on the lunar surface.
The unequivocal and unexpected discovery of widespread water in the uppermost layer of the moon’s surface means a whole new set of challenges for engineers working on methods for future astronauts to extract lunar resources.
Scientists would have gathered higher quality data about lunar water if India’s Chandrayaan-1 had fulfilled its full mission at the moon, Aviation Weekreports:
M3 managed to map 90 percent of the lunar surface at low resolution before Chandrayaan-1 stopped transmitting signals from lunar orbit on Aug. 29, having completed 10 months of a planned two-year mission.
Had the mission continued, M3 would now be gathering high-resolution data.
With all the talk about water during the past week, I decided to go see some of water on this world on Saturday. I took these photographs at Davenport on California’s Pacific Coast about 10 miles north of Santa Cruz.
X PRIZE Foundation creator explains the significance of water on the moon in a piece on The Huffington Post:
From an economic point of view, water on the Moon is the equivalent of finding “gold in the hills of California.” Translation: there is the potential for a California gold rush to hit the space community in the years ahead, and the teams building robotic exploration vehicles in the Google Lunar X PRIZE are constructing the shovels and picks on the leading edge of this potential boom.
NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper, an instrument on the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 mission, took this image of Earth’s moon. It is a three-color composite of reflected near-infrared radiation from the sun, and illustrates the extent to which different materials are mapped across the side of the moon that faces Earth.
Small amounts of water were detected on the surface of the moon at various locations. This image illustrates their distribution at high latitudes toward the poles.
Blue shows the signature of water, green shows the brightness of the surface as measured by reflected infrared radiation from the sun and red shows an iron-bearing mineral called pyroxene.
Alan Boyle has an excellent story about the discovery of water on the moon and its impact on space policy. Alan starts out by pointing out an obvious aspect that has sort of gotten lost in all the hoop-de-la-dee-dahÂ surrounding the announcement:
Is this week’s revelation that water ice is more prevalent on the moon than scientists expected a “game-changer” for future spaceflight, as some experts think? Actually, the rules of the game for going beyond Earth orbit haven’t changed – but the latest findings could bring new attention to options in the old playbooks.
Indian media are reporting that ISRO is rethinking its Chandrayaan-II mission in the wake of the discovery of water on the surface. ISRO plans to land two rovers on the lunar surface as part of Chandrayaan-II besides conducting several in-orbit experiments. The Indo-Russo mission is designed to send an orbiter and two landers to the moon.
“Following findings of Chandrayaan I, it would have to now look at mid-course correction of its objectives. We have to fine tune it. There is some loud thinking on the issue going on,” ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair told reporters in Bangalore.
Nair indicated that scientists were exploring possibilities of equipping the lunar rover with some instruments that could dig the moon surface and carry out in-situ experiments.