Remember one year ago, when NASA’s LCROSS mission (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) blasted the moon to kick up a plume of debris? The satellite’s first look at that plume saw that, yes, there was water ice there, much to DISCOVER’s delight. One year later, scientists have published an in-depth analysis of the LCROSS plume and found that there might be even more water than they first thought: In certain places, the moon could be twice as wet as the Sahara Desert.
“It’s really wet,” said Anthony Colaprete, co-author of one of the Science papers and a space scientist at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. He and his colleagues estimate that 5.6% of the total mass of the targeted lunar crater’s soil consists of water ice. In other words, 2,200 pounds of moon dirt would yield a dozen gallons of water. [Wall Street Journal]
The water isn’t all (though there was lots of it in the plume, more 300 pounds). Other studies in the mix found methane, silver, gold, ammonia, and many more substances in the cloud of debris NASA created.
“This place looks like it’s a treasure chest of elements,” said Brown University planetary geologist Peter Schultz, one of the principal investigators of the NASA mission. He said the compounds migrate to the poles and then get quick-frozen and collect in craters, where they stay “in the permanent shadows.” Although the presence of some lunar ice and water vapor was reported earlier from that mission, the full richness of what lies in the coldest and darkest reaches of the moon took a year to tease out. [Washington Post]
While the menagerie of elements fascinates scientists, it could complicate matters for dreamers who want to go back to the moon and use its resident water supply to establish a base in the future. For instance, the LCROSS team found lots of mercury, which has a little toxicity problem that could get in the way of harvesting water in a drinkable form.
Not all of the moon is so rich in water and other materials, either. As Schultz noted, NASA chose a polar site for LCROSS because those sites don’t receive enough direct sunlight to blast off the material there. The rest of the moon is much, much drier than the driest places on Earth.
However, we’re continually ready to be surprised. If this year has shown us anything, it’s that our growing knowledge continues to paint a new picture of the moon.
“We’ve always been told the moon is bone dry and that was the legacy of Apollo and that’s true — in all the samples we picked up,” Schultz [says]. “It’s now a new moon to me. We know there are places we can explore that can tell us brand new things,” Schultz said. [Discovery News]
80beats: Lunar Impact! NASA Probe Slams Into Moon to Search for Water
80beats: Study: There’s Water on the Lunar Surface, but Inside It’s Bone Dry
80beats: Moon May Have 100 Times More Water Than We Thought. How’d We Miss It?
DISCOVER: The Moon Is Always New Nowadays