- Jun 12, 2007
It's official: There's water ice on the moon, and lots of it. When melted, the water could potentially be used to drink or to extract hydrogen for rocket fuel.
NASA's LCROSS probe discovered beds of water ice at the lunar south pole when it impacted the moon last month, mission scientists announced today. The findings confirm suspicions announced previously, and in a big way.
"Indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn't find just a little bit, we found a significant amount," Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator from NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif.
Based on the measurements, the team estimated about 100 kilograms of water in the view of their instruments — the equivalent of about a dozen 2-gallon buckets — in the area of the impact crater (about 80 feet, or 20 meters across) and the ejecta blanket (about 60 to 80 meters across), Colaprete said.
"I'm pretty impressed by the amount of water we saw in our little 20-meter crater," Colaprete said.
"What's really exciting is we've only hit one spot. It's kind of like when you're drilling for oil. Once you find it one place, there's a greater chance you'll find more nearby," said Peter Schultz, professor of geological sciences at Brown University and a co-investigator on the LCROSS mission.
This water finding doesn't mean that the moon is wet by Earth's standards, but is likely wetter than some of the driest deserts on Earth, Colaprete said. And even this small amount is valuable to possible future missions, said Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist for Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters.
Scientists have suspected that permanently shadowed craters at the south pole of the moon could be cold enough to keep water frozen at the surface based on detections of hydrogen by previous moon missions. Water has already been detected on the moon by a NASA-built instrument on board India's now defunct Chandrayaan-1 probe and other spacecraft, though it was in very small amounts and bound to the dirt and dust of the lunar surface.
Water wasn't the only compound seen in the debris plumes of the LCROSS impact.
"There's a lot of stuff in there," Colaprete said. What exactly those other compounds are hasn't yet been determined, but could include organic materials that would hint at comet impacts in the past.