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NASA: the Moon is a hydrated mistress

LCROSS spies 'buckets' of water in lunar crater

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NASA's LCROSS probe has confirmed the presence of water on the lunar surface, including buckets of the stuff in a shadowed crater near the moon's south pole.

"Indeed, yes, we found water," said LCROSS principal investigator Anthony Colaprete said during a news conference today at NASA's Ames Research Center. "And we didn't find just a little bit, we found a significant amount."

Colaprete said there was enough water in the 20 to 30 meter crater LCROSS created by crashing into lunar surface to fill at least a dozen 2 gallon (7.6 liter) buckets.

LCROSS, or the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite, and its companion rocket stage crashed into the permanently shadowed polar crater Cabeus on October 9. The impact created a plume of debris that traveled beyond the rim of the crater and into the sunlight, allowing scientists for the first time to observe its contents.

NASA scientists say preliminary data indicates the impact also tossed up a variety of other "interesting" compounds they will be analyzing going forward.

Because the permanently shadowed areas of the lunar south pole can reach temperatures of -170C (-274F), they have a tendency to trap materials for extremely long spans of time. NASA said the frigid conditions allows them to act as record keepers of the solar system for a period perhaps as long as several billion years.

From the Lunar Prospector missions about a decade ago, lunar scientists have known there was a large amount of hydrogen in the polar regions of the moon. However, it wasn't clear what form the hydrogen was in.

"LCROSS has now made that definitive discovery. It's very likely that a lot of that hydrogen is in the form of water," said Greg Delory of the University of California, Berkeley, who is not a member of the LCROSS team but took part in the announcement.

Other recent observations have also supplied evidence of water on the Moon, including the Indian satellite Chandrayaan. According to Colaprete, the two missions are complimentary and provide two different pieces of the puzzle.

"They saw water bound and absorbed in grains," he said about Chandrayaan. "We saw, potentially, real crystalline water ice."

Delory said the data will provide astronomers new insight into our closest celestial neighbor and the wider universe.

"While this discovery is significant, what's equally important is what comes next," Delory said. "Some of the really intriguing questions that come up are the following: Where did the water come from? How long has it been there? What kind of processes are involved in putting it there and removing it and destroying it?"

There are potentially many sources for the water, including comets, solar winds, the moon's internal chemistry, or the Earth itself.

Ice on the moon could also supply future explorers with breathable air, drinking water, and rocket fuel if broken down into hydrogen and oxygen. Confirmation of water is undoubtedly welcome news to NASA, who plans to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 for extended missions on the lunar surface. ®

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