Close-Up of the Moon Reveals Coldest Place in the Solar System & Possible Ice

By Eliza Strickland | September 21, 2009 4:04 pm

lunar-mapNASA’s new Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has only been on the job for three months, but even while researchers were calibrating its instruments it was already making new discoveries about our moon. The orbiter swooped down above the moon’s mysterious south pole, and measured temperatures in the permanently shadowed craters that are the lowest ever detected in our solar system. It has also detected traces of hydrogen in various lunar locations, which may indicate buried water ice.

The extent of the deep freeze in the southern lunar craters surprised scientists, says lunar scientist David Paige: “Right here in our own backyard are definitely the coldest things we’ve seen in real measurements.” Temperatures there were measured at 397 degrees below zero. That’s just 62 degrees higher than the lowest temperature possible. Pluto is at least a degree warmer even though it is about 40 times farther away from the sun [AP].

Such temperatures probably allowed for the preservation of ices of water, methane, or ammonia from ancient comet collisions…. Such ices could be valuable resources that human lunar explorers could use. And they would help answer questions about the arrival of such “volatiles” to the Earth-moon system – evidence that Earth’s geological processes have largely erased from its own surface [Christian Science Monitor]. Researchers scheduled the LRO to scrutinize the moon’s south pole in particular because of this combination of potentially useful resources and scientifically interesting sites.

The presence of water ice on the moon has been a point of contention for the past decade. NASA’s 1998 Lunar Prospector detected hydrogen at the poles, but last October a Japanese lunar probe failed to find icy patches in shadowy craters. The latest findings from LRO are intriguing because the orbiter detected hydrogen not just in the dark and icy craters, but also in nearby regions on the sunlit surface.

NASA scientists said Thursday that this could mean water is buried underground. Water could not exist on the surface, where it is exposed to daytime temperatures as high as 220 degrees Fahrenheit…. “We don’t know the abundance or how deeply it is buried” [Los Angeles Times], says project scientist Richard Vondrak.

Researchers won’t have to wait long for more data. In a matter of weeks, a second spacecraft known as the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) will launch a crash-landing probe into the floor of a south-pole crater, Cabeus A. The impact is scheduled for Oct. 9. Scientists will monitor the impact, analyzing the plume of material kicked out of the crater for evidence of water and other ices [Christian Science Monitor].

Related Content:
80beats: NASA to Moon: We’re Back. Got Any Ice?
80beats: Disappointing News: No Icy Patches in the Lunar Craters
80beats: The Moon Once Held Water, Moon Pebbles Show

Image: NASA

MORE ABOUT: moon, NASA, solar system
  • Cory

    Isn’t the article title a little misleading?

    It should be “coldest measured temperature in the Solar System”, since it seems likely that Pluto may well have a crater on one of its poles that would be even colder.

  • Frank Norton

    Hydrogen and oxygen are among the two most prevalent atoms in the universe, and are highly reactive when they are present together. Thus water should be found everywhere – underground, on the surface, in the athmosphere and in the vacuum of space – think comets.

    Water being flued at the lower temperatures (both in liquid and solid ice) and gaseous at the mid temperatures, highly corrosive and a strong solvent, plus uncompressable (64# cubic/foot) , on earth it desolves rock making caverns and seeps down into the rock, and in soil, by capulary action, rises up to the serface – think water on the moon, mars, etc.

    NASA moon pictures have shown what resembles a ground fog rising up a crater hill, and covering a road that appears to have been made to transport minerals out of two visable mine entrances. One would tend to think that the NASA moon rocket crash site has similar features, or is the same site.

  • Charles Zigmund

    The headline claims the coldest place in the solar system, but the story says the coldest place ever DETECTED in the solar system. When we get a probe into the shadow of some hidden place on Pluto, as this is a hidden place on the Earth’s moon, isn’t it more than likely a colder temperature will be recorded? Hype, hype, hype and incidentally, a likely lie.

  • Sam

    This article is misleading there are bound to colder places out there in the solar sytem. Just we havent got the technology or resources that allow us to send probes to find out. It is obvious the moon would be colder than other nearer planets as one side is always covered in drakness. another thing is that, that side is further away from the sun making it obviously colder. Another stupid comment in this article is that they say “it could mean water is buried undergorund” obviously if there is a lot of oxgyen and hydrogen found present in the atmosphere then at some stage there would have been water on the moon. there still could be under the surface. In the core of the moon, we really need to do more experiments on the moon before we start stating the obvious. i also imagnine the abundance of the water will be quite a bit as if they are right about the amount of oxygen and hydrogen it is likely there will be a lot of H2O. I think the next thing to test for on the moon how far down the water is and what other matter the moon has. we should find out about closer planets then work outwards and compare results we find to other planets as well before making statements like the article.

    i am only 13

  • Simon

    Interesting story. To you haters and hecklers out there, The title is a hook to get you to read. It isn’t trying to sell you snake oil.

    This is a synopsis of a larger story, sited at Christian Science Monitor. Take your finger out of your ears(and for you Sam, your nose) and look it up.

  • Tom

    Sam: The “dark side of the moon” is not actually always dark, it just never faces towards Earth. Also, the article states pretty plainly that the moon has the coldest temperature ever “detected” in our solar system. I do agree with the other posters, however, that the article’s title is definitely misleading.


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