Feeds

NASA sniffs water ice on Moon – maybe

Don't schedule that lunar hockey game just yet

High performance access to file storage

The unusually bright floor of an ancient crater at the Moon's south pole may be proof that over 20 per cent of it may be coated with water ice. Or not.

"There may be multiple explanations for the observed brightness throughout the crater," said Maria Zuber, the lead investigator of the team who authored a paper published Wednesday on Nature.com. "For example, newer material may be exposed along its walls, while ice may be mixed in with its floor."

Zuber and her fellow crater-studiers examined the two-mile-deep, 12.5-mile-wide crater – appropriately named Shackleton after the famed terrestrial South Pole explorer – using the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) aboard NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).

It was, to put it mildly, a thorough investigation. According to NASA's announcement of the research, LOLA made over five million elevation measurements with a vertical resolution of about a micron – a millionth of a meter – to determine Shackleton's structure.

"The crater's interior is extremely rugged," concludes Zuber. "It would not be easy to crawl around in there."

Elevation (left) and shaded relief (right) image of Shackleton, a 21-km-diameter (12.5-mile-diameter) permanently shadowed crater adjacent to the lunar south pole.

Elevation (left) and shaded relief (right) image of Shackleton (click to enlarge, or here for an enormous version)

In addition to being rugged, it's also frightfully cold – "cosmically cold" is how coauthor Gregory Neumann describes it. Being essentially coincident with the Moon's south pole, almost no sunlight reaches into Shackleton's depths, creating what the abstract to the paper calls "a perennial cold trap.

Shackleton is also an "unusually well-preserved simple crater," the paper notes, with a floor that is essentially the same as it was when it was formed over three billion years ago. What makes the floor interesting – and different from the floor of nearby craters – is its relative brightness.

Shackleton crater: false colors indicate height, with blue lowest and red/white highest.

Shackleton crater: false colors indicate height, with blue lowest and red/white highest

The paper offers two possibilities for Shackleton's brightness: the "most simply explained" reason would be that its lunar location and shadowy depth have limited what the paper refers to as "space weathering", keeping it in pristine condition over its lifetime.

The more-interesting conjecture, though, is that there's water ice on Shackelton's floor. But before you suggest that NASA sequester some of its moon-shot budget for astronaut ice skates, know that the amount of ice that the paper postulates is tiny: a layer of about one micrometre thick covering about 20 per cent of Shackleton's floor.

While the existence of an icy crater floor is still uncertain, one thing is incontrovertible: the LRO – with its laser altimeter, cosmic-ray telescope (CRaTER), radiometer (Diviner), mapper (LAMP), neutron detector (LEND), and camera (LROC) – is doing some excellent science.

Okay, so the LRO's Mini-RF radar was a bit of a bust – but not even the heaviest hitters bat a thousand. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Video games make you NASTY AND VIOLENT
Especially if you are bad at them and keep losing
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Saturn spotted spawning new FEMTO-MOON
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
India's GPS alternative launches second satellite
Closed satnav system due to have all seven birds aloft by 2016
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.