Feeds

There's water on the Moon, scientists confirm

Trio of spacecraft provide 'unambiguous evidence'

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Analysis of the lunar surface by three different spacecraft has provided "unambiguous evidence" of water on the Moon, Space.com reports.

India's Chandrayaan-1, NASA's Cassini spacecraft, and the agency's Deep Impact probe have all detected the presence of either water or hydroxyl - one hydrogen atom and one oxygen atom linked by a single bond.

The NASA-built Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) aboard Chandrayaan-1 "detected wavelengths of light reflected off the surface that indicated the chemical bond between hydrogen and oxygen".

The M3 suggested water/hydroxyl in the top few millimetres of the lunar surface - the limit of its penetrative capability - and detected a water signal which "got stronger toward the polar regions".

Cassini passed by the Moon in 1999, en route to Saturn, and also noted a globally-distributed water/hydroxyl signal, once again stronger towards the poles.

Deep Impact, meanwhile, detected the same signal at all latitudes above 10 degrees N, and confirmed the poles showed the strongest signals. The probe made multiple passes of the Moon on its way to a planned rendezvous flyby of comet 103P/Hartley 2 in November 2010.

Commenting on the trio of studies, Paul Lacey of the University of Hawaii said the findings "provide unambiguous evidence for the presence of hydroxyl or water" - data which "prompts a critical re-examination of the notion that the moon is dry".

There are two possible sources for lunar water - from water-bearing comets hitting the surface, or an "endogenic" process. Space.com explains that since the material which makes up the lunar surface is roughly 45 per cent oxygen, "combined with other elements as mostly silicate minerals", it could interact with the solar wind to produce water.

According to the M3 team, if the solar wind's positively-charged hydrogen atoms impact against the Moon's surface with sufficient force they can "break apart oxygen bonds in soil materials", and "where free oxygen and hydrogen exist, there is a high chance that trace amounts of water will form".

Regarding just why there appears to be more water/hydroxyl at the poles, Deep Impact was able to "observe the same regions at different times of the lunar day", and found that "when the sun's rays were strongest, the water feature was lowest, while in the morning, the feature was stronger".

This leads the researchers to suggest "the daily dehydration and rehydration of the trace water across the surface could lead to the migration of hydroxyl and hydrogen towards the poles where it can accumulate in the cold traps of the permanently shadowed regions".

Carle Pieters of Brown University in Rhode Island, who led one of the three studies, said: "If the water molecules are as mobile as we think they are - even a fraction of them - they provide a mechanism for getting water to those permanently shadowed craters.

"This opens a whole new avenue [of lunar research], but we have to understand the physics of it to utilize it."

Quite what benefit the lunar water will be to future manned Moon missions remains to be seen. The resolutely imperial researchers note that one ton of the top layer of the lunar surface would yield just 32 ounces of water.

The three studies are published in tomorrow's issue of Science. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.