It is official, water has been found on the moon. Scientists announced in September that “a significant amount” of moon water was found and collected by the LCROSS (pronounced L-Cross), or the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite.
The LCROSS was intentionally crashed onto the surface of the moon near its south pole, in the Cabeus crater in early October. The September issue of the magazine Science published an article that detailed findings of polar ice water on the lunar surface, and the samples collected from the LCROSS impact provide evidence that there are water ice deposits on the moon.
Previously, the moon was thought to be drier than any desert on Earth, with no amounts of H2O present that hadn’t been brought there by humans except for the possible water ice deposits in the craters. Now, it appears that the top layer of the lunar surface does indeed contain trace amounts of water, what would come out to about 32 ounces according to researchers.
The Apollo mission was not able to conclude that the lunar rock samples brought back contained any water because the isotopes of oxygen that exist on Earth are also present on the moon. This means that earth water and moon water are nearly impossible to tell apart.
Since then, three other spacecrafts have detected possible water on the moon- India’s Chandrayaan-1 moon probe which detected a chemical bond between oxygen and hydrogen, the Cassini which received the strongest water signal from the poles, and the Deep Impact spacecraft which showed that all parts of the moon have water for at least part of each day.
Findings from all of these missions show that indeed the moon is not dry. In addition, findings from the Deep Impact spacecraft show that the differing amounts of solar radiation on any given day change the amount of water present.
There are two possible types of water that could be on the moon. One of those would be water that is brought from outside sources, such as when deep space comets hit the surface of the Moon. Or, water could form from a process on the moon itself- when the solar winds (mostly made of charged hydrogen particles) interact with the moon rocks and soil whose composition is about 45 percent oxygen. This interaction would cause small amounts of water to form, amounts that have detected by the LCROSS satellite.
The satellite was crashed in one of the moon’s craters that never receives sunlight. It kicked up about 26 gallons of water that was measured by the spacecraft. Scientists back on Earth watching the crash expected to see a huge debris plume and were very disappointed when they did not. NASA comments that this failure was due to problems with the video stream and not the impact.
These findings lead to important new avenues of research. The polar craters are a frosty
-365° F, and the deposits located there have the potential to unlock the secrets of the moon, much the same as Earth’s ice core samples have done much to provide information about our planet’s climate history.
Water on the moon also leaves room for another very exciting possibility- that of future human habitation on the moon. Where there is water, there can be human life. Not only does it provide something for future pioneers to drink, but the water can be broken down into its oxygen and hydrogen components, providing air to breathe and rocket fuel.
The current plan from NASA is to have another group of astronauts up on the moon in 2020. Budget cuts have made this a rather unlikely occurrence, and it has been suggested by the Obama administration that NASA concentrate on longer-duration missions into deeper space and by-pass the moon for now.
So while the discovery of water on the moon could be the turning point of human history, pushing us into the next age of exploration and settlement, it might be a while yet. This possibility, though, has scientists very excited. But what about here on campus? Southwestern freshmen Stephen Montes isn’t as optimistic or impressed by the findings.
“Well it’s exciting, but I think if it had been more exciting than the findings would have been better publicized. I mean, I read the news quite a lot and haven’t heard anything about it.”