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Hubble seeks breath of fresh air in lunar soil

A far cry from the intergalactic deep-field

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The Hubble Space Telescope has joined the hunt for sources of oxygen on the moon, and it is already proving its worth.

Hubble's image of the Aristarchus impact crater: NASA

NASA has been imaging the moon's surface using Hubble's ultra-violet imaging systems, and has already discovered deposits of ilmenite, a mineral containing titanium and iron oxide.

Two of the deposits are at old landing sites, but a third is in a region never visited by humans. Scientists should be able to confirm their initial findings by comparing the data Hubble has collected from the three sites, and comparing them to rock samples brought back from the Apollo landing sites.

The findings from Hubble's survey will help mission planners work out the best places to send future robotic prospecting missions, NASA says. The work is all part of establishing candidate sites for future lunar bases. The data will boost what little we already know about lunar geology.

Hubble was not designed for taking pictures of anything as close up as the moon, and NASA astronomers said that making the observations had been both "interesting and challenging".

Jim Garvin, chief scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, noted: "Our initial findings support the potential existence of some unique varieties of oxygen-rich glassy soils in both the Aristarchus and Apollo 17 regions. They could be well-suited for visits by robots and human explorers in efforts to learn how to live off the land on the moon."

He added that it would be some months before the data had been fully processed and analysed. ®

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