The Moon is wetter than we thought

By Phil Plait | May 27, 2011 7:00 am

Scientists studying samples of volcanic glass from the Moon have made a startling discovery: there’s more water in them than was once thought. A lot more water. Not enough to go swimming or anything like that, but certainly enough to have affected the Moon’s geologic history, and potentially profoundly impact (haha — see below) our ideas of how the Moon formed.

The scientists looked at glass created in volcanic fire fountains, eruptions billions of years ago that left tiny (roughly the diameter of a human hair) grains of colored glass on the surface. These lay there for quite some time until 1972, when they were spotted by geologist Harrison Schmitt, who happened to be standing on the Moon at the time as part of Apollo 17. He brought them back to Earth for study.

In the ensuing decades technology improved quite a bit, and figuring out the contents of the glass beads has become a lot more accurate. In this new research, the scientists found (in 2008, actually, but their results are now confirmed) that the beads have a water content of about 750 parts per million, roughly equivalent to what you’d find in magma in the Earth’s upper mantle. That’s very surprising; many of the rocks on the Moon’s surface are very dry*, which for years has led scientists to assume the Moon itself was very dry.

Even with subsurface water being found all over the Moon, it’s still surprising to see this water in the beads. Why?

Because the surface water is thought to have come from space in the form of comet impacts. Comets have lots of water, and over billions of years have hit the Moon countless times. But dig down a ways and the rocks were expected to be drier. This is turning out not to be the case, since these glass beads come from deep below the lunar surface and have so much water in them.

OK, so the Moon is wetter, which is nifty. Mind you, we’re not talking about potential geysers or subsurface lakes here; the amount of water we’re seeing here means you’d need to grind up a couple of cubic meters of this glass just to get enough water to drink with lunch. So what’s the big deal?

The important part here is that this has a huge effect on how we think the Moon formed. The current thinking is that shortly after the Earth itself formed, maybe 50 – 100 million years or so later, something the size of Mars came careening in and smacked into our new planet. It was a glancing blow, so a vast amount of material blasted out, away from the Earth, and into orbit around us. This stuff formed the Moon. This idea has a lot going for it: for example, it explains why the Moon is less dense than the Earth on average (by the time of impact, a lot of heavier stuff had settled to the Earth’s core, leaving the lower density materials near the surface to become the Moon).

It was also thought to take care of why the Moon is so dry compared to Earth: all the water boiled away in the impact. In fact, a lot of the more delicate (technically called volatile) materials would have been destroyed, explaining why we see so few volatiles on the Moon.

Except now we see more water. Clearly something is amiss. To be honest, I think the Giant Impact Hypothesis is still the best thing going — it really does have a lot of explanatory power — but it looks like we missed something. Maybe water was protected somehow in the impact, able to survive the blow. Perhaps our understanding of the timing of the impact is off, or maybe it’s something else entirely. The first order of business is to figure out if there is some add-on to the hypothesis that can explain this water. If not, then it’s time to make some hard choices.

I’ll note that in another study, using similar samples from Apollo 15, these same authors found that the ratio of deuterium to hydrogen in the lunar samples was indistinguishable from that of terrestrial water! That implies very strongly (to me at least) that the water on the Moon came from the Earth, or they both came from the same source. The D to H ratio changes across the solar system, meaning conditions in the early stages of the planets’ formations were different depending on their distance from the Sun. So this is yet another monkey in the wrench that must be dealt with.

Water plays a critical role in life on Earth, of course, but it also has a huge effect on geology. Volcanoes erupt very differently when water is involved (they tend to explode when wet), water affects the temperature of magma, and it even affects tectonics. Knowing just how much water is inside a planetary body is a key insight into its history. And apparently we’re not totally sure of even our nearest neighbor!

Clearly, we need more samples from the Moon, and from other worlds as well. Scientists are planning on doing just that, but such missions can be frightfully expensive and take decades to plan, build, and execute. This looks like a mystery that may take quite a while to unravel, but I’m hoping that we already have enough pieces to get us going in the right direction.

Image credits: Lunar volcano: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University; Glass beads: G. Jeffrey Taylor/U. Hawaii


* I almost wrote "bone dry", but bone is 15% water! That’s sopping wet compared to the lunar rocks.


Related posts:

NASA finds reservoir of water ice on the Moon!
Water on the Moon…? Yup. It’s real.
Water on the Moon… kinda
Lunar boreal halo

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Science
MORE ABOUT: Moon, volcano, water

Comments (63)

  1. Sam H

    Idea – since you said that the deuterium : hydrogen ratio is the same as Earth, meaning that the water likely either from Earth or from the same source. From this I immediately get two scenarios – the same comet bombardment that brought the Earth water also hit the moon (the more likely hypothesis to me), or the original impactor Theia could had a high water content – meaning that it could have been the source of a large part of both the Earth and the Moon’s water. Probably very unlikely, since during the bombardment period any planetoids in the inner system probably wouldn’t be able to hold any water, but still…
    So what do you think? Any other suggestions/guesses? Mine isn’t an actual hypothesis by a longshot, but at least it’s partly scientific, more so than Intelligent Design (BTW: I’m leaning toward agnosticism now and I fully accept all the evidence for evolution, even if their’s uncertainty in a lot of areas about exactly what happened. But of course, my opinions on emotional issues like this tend to get tossed about during these tumultuous hormone-spiked years).

  2. puppygod

    Let’s start rumor that high content of water might mean that there is oil on the moon. Politicians might be stupid enough to buy it and we would hit two birds with one stone: did return to moon and got moon soil samples from drilling sites ;)

  3. Would it makes sense that while the earth was still forming and the debris cloud that would become the earth was still around, some kind of body, asteroid or otherwise, made a pass through the cloud and split it into two distinct bodies? The denser material of the cloud would have already started to form the earth, hence none of this material on the moon, but the lighter substances, including those to form water, were still floating.

    /hypothesis.

    Alternatively, all the water on the moon is left over from what the ancient astronauts took with them.

  4. Insert well worn and never very humorous to begin with joke about my lunar spa and resort….here.

  5. Nigel Depledge

    [nitpick]
    The BA Said:

    The important part here is that this has a huge affect on how we think the Moon formed.

    Bolding mine.

    Phil, I think you meant to say effect not affect.
    [/nitpick]

  6. James

    I have a question… Why would you expect the water on the Moon to have boiled away during the impact, but not the water on the Earth? surely Theia could have had large chunks of ice trapped inside it from when it first formed. Why would you expect all of this to float away during the impact?

  7. Nigel Depledge

    Sam H (1) said:

    . . . more so than Intelligent Design (BTW: I’m leaning toward agnosticism now and I fully accept all the evidence for evolution, even if their’s uncertainty in a lot of areas about exactly what happened. But of course, my opinions on emotional issues like this tend to get tossed about during these tumultuous hormone-spiked years).

    I for one am pleased for you.

    It may help to remember that evolutionary theory is a description of processes, not an account of history.

    OTOH, it may also help to reflect on the fact that ID deliberately shies away from consideration of processes. And this additional thought occurred to me: if ID is science then it cannot invoke the unmeasureable (i.e. the supernatural) as a mechanism, and if the presence of complexity in biology requires design, who designed the designer?

  8. Nigel Depledge

    James (6) said:

    Why would you expect the water on the Moon to have boiled away during the impact, but not the water on the Earth? surely Theia could have had large chunks of ice trapped inside it from when it first formed. Why would you expect all of this to float away during the impact?

    Interesting question.

    It seems to me that the water vapour that remained with the young Earth after the impact would still be subject to the full effects of Earth’s gravitational field and therefore only a small portion of it would boil off into space.

    Whereas, of the material that was thrown into orbit – and was therefore all in freefall and subject only to microgravity – the vast majority of the water would have evaorated off into space.

    I guess any nascent atmosphere that the young Earth had following the collision could also have played a role (gas pressure helping to reduce the volatility of the water on the Earth).

  9. James

    @Nigel Yes, I can see how that would be the case with water near the surface. But couldn’t there have been water deep inside the Moon that was trapped inside glass and brought to the surface via volcanic activity as the Moon was cooling down.

  10. James

    Is it possible that the comet that struck the earth so violently in the past (Dino destructor) that could have displaced so much water volume into space, that it could have drenched the moon in a way? Ok, thinking way outside the box.

  11. Pete Jackson

    Moon river, wider than a mile.
    I’m crossing you in style some day.
    Oh Dream maker, you heart breaker,
    Wherever you’re goin’, I’m goin’ your way.

    Two drifters, off to see the world.
    There’s such a lot of world to see.
    We’re after that same rainbows end, waitin’ ’round the bend.
    My huckleberry friend, moon river, and me.

    (Copyright Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

  12. Egad

    Hmm. I wonder if wetter magma might have led to more differentiation and the possibility of some kinds of ores forming.

  13. Stuarto

    “..the beads have a water content of about 750 parts per million, roughly equivalent to what you’d find in magma in the Earth’s upper mantle.”

    That enough evidence for me! The moon-beads have equivalent water content as Upper Mantle, glancing impact from Mars sized body.. Therefore, Upper Mantle = Moon.

    Very basic – but sometimes the easy answers are the right ones!

    Case closed. (For me at least! – Well, until any further information to the contrary becomes available of course!)

  14. “Clearly, we need more samples from the moon.” Hopefully China will allow us access to theirs as it seems unlikely that we will be going there during the lifetimes of anyone here.

  15. Messier Tidy Upper

    Except now we see more water. Clearly something is amiss.

    Could this have something to do with the phase state of the water – remember that “water” comes in various forms of ice (*not* just our familiar “ice I” plus, natch, liquid and steam) some of which arise / exist at high temperatures and high pressures, right?

    IOW, its water-ice Jim but not as we know it? ;-)

    ..the beads have a water content of about 750 parts per million, roughly equivalent to what you’d find in magma in the Earth’s upper mantle.

    You know when I think of the molten magma that makes up the Earth’s mantle, water is NOT what comes to mind. I guess I probably shouldn’t be that surprised that there’s water inside Earth even that far down – but I am. :-o ;-)

  16. Randy A.

    Phil, you said “a lot of the more delicate (technically called volatile) materials would have been destroyed.” Perhaps a better way to express this would have been “vaporized and blown away by the solar wind”?

    The discovery of water in the lunar glass implies that not all the volatiles were lost, however. I wonder how quickly the debris cloud would have cooled? If it cooled fast enough, perhaps volatiles condensed and formed ices on the dust that eventually coalesced into the Moon.

    On a different subject, Brad (#3) asks: “Would it makes sense that while the earth was still forming and the debris cloud that would become the earth was still around, some kind of body, asteroid or otherwise, made a pass through the cloud and split it into two distinct bodies?”

    Based on what I’ve read: a “cloud” like what you seem to be thinking of probably didn’t exist, except perhaps as a very transient phenomenon. If it did exist and a solid body passed through, it would either leave a tunnel, or perhaps scatter the entire debris cloud. And if a debris cloud was “split in two” it would just reform, and the particles would clump together into one body.

  17. Messier Tidy Upper

    @4. kuhnigget : “Insert well worn and never very humorous to begin with joke about my lunar spa and resort….here.”

    You were *joking* about your lunar spa, kuhnigget?! Durn! I thought I had a booking there and everything! :-o ;-)

    @7. Nigel Depledge :

    Sam H (1) said: “. . . more so than Intelligent Design (BTW: I’m leaning toward agnosticism now and I fully accept all the evidence for evolution, even if their’s uncertainty in a lot of areas about exactly what happened. But of course, my opinions on emotional issues like this tend to get tossed about during these tumultuous hormone-spiked years).”
    I for one am pleased for you.

    Also me for two – am pleased for you as well. :-)

    Changing your mind about major issues like that is hard and requires being a good, strong person to come around and face reality sometimes – trust me I know from hard experience too. Not creationism but climate contrarianism and a few other things in my case. Plus, I’m always learning and I know enough now to know that I don’t always know enough; if that makes any sense?

    @10. Pete Jackson : Nice one. 8)

  18. Vonnegut-check

    Various forms of water/ice…? Oh, no! Ice nine! We’re doomed!

  19. Robin Byron

    “…yet another monkey in the wrench…”

    Reminds me of a dear friend who had a curious way of mixing metaphors.

    A few of his classics:

    “There’s another wrench in the monkey pile.”
    “You’re treading on thin water.”
    “…her unfeathered breasts…”
    “It bounced like a sieve.” (In reference to the flight of a hockey puck.)

  20. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 15. MTU :

    “… remember that “water” comes in various forms of ice (*not* just our familiar “ice I” plus, natch, liquid and steam) some of which arise / exist at high temperatures and high pressures, right? “

    See : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice#Phases

    Which notes :

    Subjected to higher pressures and varying temperatures, ice can form in fifteen separate known phases. With care all these phases except ice X can be recovered at ambient pressure and low temperature. The types are differentiated by their crystalline structure, ordering and density. … [SNIP!] … As well as crystalline forms, solid water can exist in amorphous states as amorphous solid water (ASW), low-density amorphous ice (LDA), high-density amorphous ice (HDA), very high-density amorphous ice (VHDA) and hyperquenched glassy water (HGW). In outer space, hexagonal crystalline ice (the predominant form found on Earth) is extremely rare. Amorphous ice is more common; however, hexagonal crystalline ice can be formed via volcanic action.

    (Source as linked above.)

    So anyone care to enlighten us as which form(s) the lunar water here is taking? Or is it chemically bound up into the rocks?

  21. Messier Tidy Upper

    @1. Sam H :

    Idea – since you said that the deuterium : hydrogen ratio is the same as Earth, meaning that the water likely either from Earth or from the same source. From this I immediately get two scenarios – the same comet bombardment that brought the Earth water also hit the moon (the more likely hypothesis to me), or the original impactor Theia could had a high water content – meaning that it could have been the source of a large part of both the Earth and the Moon’s water. Probably very unlikely, since during the bombardment period any planetoids in the inner system probably wouldn’t be able to hold any water, but still… So what do you think? Any other suggestions/guesses?

    Both ideas sound perfectly reasonable at a first glance to me, although I need to sleep on them and ponder further. It’s well past midnight morning in my timezone.

    I’ll just note that both Mars and Ceres are pretty water-rich – as Venus probably once was too – as are many captured moons that would’ve fallen inwards through the forming solar system. Plus studies of one carbonaceous condrite (?) show it travelled and formed in several stages *both* in hot inner and cold distant outer regions of our solar systems if memory is serving.

    So I’m almost more tempted to go with your ice-rich “Theia” idea. It may even be a combination of bits of both?

    *****

    “Once thought to be rocky, we now believe Ceres may contain 200 million cubic kilometres of water in its mantle. This is more than the amount of fresh water on the Earth.”
    – Page 10,
    “Ceres may be a failed miniplanet” by Jeff Foust in Astronomy Now magazine, November, 2005.

    PS. Not sure if that quote is including that steamy fresh water inside the Earth’s mantle too! ;-)

  22. Josh

    Totally off topic but still pretty cool: stare at the crater in the top picture for a few seconds. It looks like the blackness is growing like ink seeping through paper. Or maybe it’s just me…

  23. Chris Winter

    Imagining what might have gone through Dr. Schmitt’s mind:

    I was standing on the Moon one day
    When I spied some colored glass that lay
    Just beside my booted feet,
    And I thought, “That’s really neat—
    It will blow those older theories clean away!”

  24. BJN

    That first image is a photo of my belly-button.

  25. Monu

    “than was once thought”

    Does this refer to ISRO’s Chandrayaan-1 mission? Or did we have evidence of water on moon before that?

  26. Jamey

    “Scientists are planning on doing just that, but such missions can be frightfully expensive and take decades to plan, build, and execute.”

    Except the first few, of course, which were frightfully expensive, yes, but took less than a decade to plan and execute.

    Odd that.

  27. Wzrd1

    First, one must consider what quantity of water may have been in solution in the upper mantle AND the nascent crust of the Earth, as only water vapor would’ve been on the surface. THEN, one must consider what size the ejecta was after impact. Assuming dust and grains of sand sized particles, zero water would have survived to form the lunar mass, as solar radiation would’ve blasted it apart and swept it into deep space.
    Were the particles of ejecta of substantial size, the water may well remain in suspension. Owing to the generous size of the impactor, the amount of energy delivered to force the ejecta from the “exit point” is fairly straightfoward to estimate and a phenomenal amount of energy over a rather small area it would be! Sufficient for large ejecta, rather than minute particles that would lose most of their water. What water would be lost would be due to differentiation at the surface, the remainder still within the molten rock, to combine into the brand, spanking new moon. It would also be over a substantially shorter time frame for large ejecta to form a moon than for a dust cloud to form into a lunar sized object.

  28. NAW

    I just love it was found in Apollo 17 “orange soil”. Just watched the footage of that on a history of space travel DVD I got. Just hearing his reaction to seeing a real color on the moon is great.

  29. mike burkhart

    I was just thinking,could some of this water come from comets collideing with the moon? If Earth has been hit by comets then chances are the moon has been hit to.

  30. jeezz Louise-don’t you guys ever watch the weather channel? the reason there’s more water on the moon is ’cause it RAINED up there a lot more than usual last year

  31. “I’ll note that in another study, using similar samples from Apollo 15, these same authors found that the ratio of deuterium to hydrogen in the lunar samples was indistinguishable from that of terrestrial water! ”

    Phil, did you actually read this? These samples are all measured way heavier than terrestrial water, and then they armwave interpret them to be the same.

    Greenwood et al. (2011) was heavier too.

  32. Grimbold

    Does this “glass” water have the same D/H ratio as the stuff in the polar craters?

  33. Mr. Bill

    Water captured in glass as the mixture cooled while being ejected from the earths surface, very interesting. Most of the volatiles burned away but I’ll bet there are more volatiles in the glass. It would be interesting to see if anything else got captured and if all the substances were earth elements. A statistical analysis of the elements discovered may even point to the area of impact here on Earth. Sounds like a worthy project!

  34. Amadan

    Water on the Moon?

    Isn’t that a vindication of Walt Brown’s Hydropants and the waters of The Fludd being blasted into space?

  35. mikethetech

    bjn says

    “That first image is a photo of my belly-button.”

    Everything is ruined, forever

  36. Pareidolia alert! Check out the orange oval-shaped glass bead just beneath center in that image!

  37. Craig

    Let`s assume the Mars-sized impact theory is correct and that we have the Earth – Moon pair of today.

    What if that object had missed? The mass of the moon would not have been shed from the early Earth. There would have been no tidal forces. What would that have meant for the development of life as we know it?

  38. Paul

    Being a fan of Occam and his razor, I wonder whether the lunar origin of these beads has been firmly established. Any chance these are terrestrial materials transferred more recently than the (hypothetical) moon-birthing collision? Could an event like the dinosaur-killer collision have caused Earthly beads to travel to the lunar surface?

  39. Dolphin Guy

    So, umm, why is the moon round if it was knocked off the Earth. With no erosion to ‘sand it down’, as it were, shouldn’t it still look like the same chunk as it was billions of years ago?

  40. Augustus

    What is clear to me is that the moon was placed where it is, orbitting the Earth like every other body we can identify in space, around 6000 years ago.

    The sooner you scientists accept that, the sooner you can begin solving the really pressing problems facing us at the moment.

  41. Who designed the intelligent designer?…….FTW!!!

    The only proper philosophy for ‘belief’ IMHO: MILITANT AGNOSTIC

    “I don’t know and neither the hell does anybody else!”

    Even Dawkins posits a five percent chance of a ‘creator’ (though he’d be loathe to consider it as approximating any of the past or current day descriptions thereof)

    From my perch in the cosmos, I’ve not seen any phenomenon, nor have I witnessed or read about any experiment that supports the religious conclusions theists come to. By embracing the honesty and truth (IMHO) of the “I don’t-neither do you” viewpoint, one can easily identify religious frauds and hucksters with the precision and deftness of even as grizzled a veteran skeptic as James Randi.

    Most religious people aren’t hucksters, though they’re easy prey for fraud, given their predilection for irrational belief. I sort the religious crowd into two camps. The honestly deluded and those set on dishonestly defrauding the deluded.

    Talking to God is not sufficient evidence of mental instability. That’s just wishful thinking. It’s believing that God is talking back that illustrates the horrible extent of your mental deterioration. What’s really hard to watch is when the mental deterioration and the physical deterioration overlap. Such is the case with Harold Camping. FWIW, I’m inclined to pity the guy (and his ilk) as deluded believers honestly defrauding themselves, unlike e.g. the Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Baker variety. For a guy who is supposedly worth even more than Sarah Palin, his house looked amazingly middle class compared to Sarah’s old Alaskan abode, to say nothing of the 1.7 million dollar McMansion she just bought in AZ!!!

    At the end of the day there’s a lot of crazy people. I hope I’ve made the job of identifying them a bit easier. It’s something I have a lot more experience with, than moon and planetary formation, (not to mention how the effects of a few extra ppm of H20 might complicate the matter).

    The real work comes in sorting out the dangerously crazy from the harmlessly crazy. Your task will be easier if you’ve had the experience of living is almost any major US population center. If so, then you’ve likely a lot of first-hand experience with mentally challenged individuals, because in the interest of humanity, our government decided twenty or so odd years ago that it would be in everybody’s best interest if they were free to walk the streets. Suffice it to say that if you have a knack for identifying the adorable street lunatics from the truly deranged and dangerous, you’re already ahead of the game.

    For those with less experience, an example:

    The guy waving the sign about the coming/imminent Rapture that you see everyday on the way to work?: Ignore him as always.

    The guy waving the sign about killing all the abortion doctors?: Danger Will Robinson Danger !!

    Enjoy.

  42. Tom (iow)

    Surely the idea of water ‘boiling away’ is Earth-centered thinking and would not happen, or at least not necessarily happen, in space. On Earth, water disappears when it boils because it is largely absorbed into the surrounding air, which then holds onto it until is condenses somewhere else.

    While the water in what was to become the moon would be vapourized on impact, it would not have anywhere – no atmosphere around it – to boil away into, and would coallesce back into the bodies of the moon and Earth.

  43. b_nichol

    @ #38 Levi in NY:

    I think I see it: god is an orange Teletubby?

  44. mike burkhart

    while were on the subject i think we should rename the dark areas on the moon when people see on moon maps sees,lakes ect they think theres water in these areas and want to go swiming.(like me when I first a book about the moon) .

  45. Aidan Karley

    @12 Egad : “wetter magma might have led to more differentiation and the possibility of some kinds of ores forming.”
    **** More volatiles in the mix is generally good for helping to differentiate components into usefully-concentrated ores. Any geologist would be fairly happy to agree with this on general principles. (I am a geologist ; I’m happy.)

    @20 MTU : “Or is it [the water] chemically bound up into the rocks?”
    **** Appreciable water can be dissolved into many crystal structures while retaining it’s molecular identity. The higher the confining pressure, the better, but it can remain dissolved against vacuum (but not very much of it). A significant number of minerals can also contain appreciable water as hydroxyl ions substituting for oxygens (with linked substitution of metal ions to balance charges). Typical analytical techniques start off by drying the ground sample over a dessicant, or under vacuum, for many hours at temperatures in excess of 100degC. It’s chemically bound water, not stuff you could wring out.

    @31. mike burkhart : “I was just thinking,could some of this water come from comets collideing with the moon? If Earth has been hit by comets then chances are the moon has been hit to.”
    **** That’s why they’re looking in grains of volcanic glass ; the water must have been present in the melt which then sprayed up above the surface, froze, and became a glass. So the water was present in the rock which melted in the sub-surface. (It may have been concentrated somewhat by the melting process. That’s common in the terrestrial mantle.)
    **** It’s a racing certainty the the Moon has been hit by comets. There is an observational programme (http://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news/lunar/program_overview.html) looking at meteor impacts in the dark part of the gibbous Moon surface ; eventually this will spot a comet impacting. (I use the geologist’s “eventually” ; it may be a long wait! Bring packed lunch(-es).)

    @39. Craig : “Let’s assume the Mars-sized impact theory is correct and that we have the Earth – Moon pair of today. What if that object had missed? The mass of the moon would not have been shed from the early Earth. There would have been no tidal forces. What would that have meant for the development of life as we know it?”
    **** Solar tides would have continued – about a quarter to a third of the magnitude of the lunar tides (local sea-floor shape resonance effects are considerable complicating factors).
    **** The Moon is a little over 1% of the Earth’s mass ; the gravitational difference would have been small.
    **** Of course, how much these differences might have compounded … requires much better understanding of the origin of life than we have at this time.

  46. morganism

    Am working on NEO mining and Luna ISRU, and am going with the theory that the MOON was actually the collisional body.

    It must have hyperbolaed in, got caught in the gravity well and slowed, and on one of the cometary passes, actually skimmed the Earths atmo, sloshing off its mantle, atmosphere, and water. Then since it was lightend up and orbit perturbed, it settled in on the next pass for a long term stay.

    Earth is a factor of 5 -50 too water rich, and the impactors theory of water deposition has been shown in recent studies to be a factor of 20-200 too low to leave us with the surface water we have now.

    The isotope ratios do vary throughout the system, but since it has been shown that almost every planet has switched orbits, you will never be able to pin that to an AU distance.

    If the debris disk theory even holds up.

    EVERY single object in the system from interstellar dust, to carbonaceous chrondites , and the rest of the asteroids so far has shown partial melting, and there is NO way to square that with accreation disk theory.
    There has been lots of computer modeling with eddys/vortexes etc, but there is no way that the interiors of all these dust particles, asteroids, and meteorites could have partially melted, been tumbled to scour off the rough edges, then reformed as “hydrous” materials (as in mixed in mud, instead of “atomic” water) in the vacuum and cold of space.

    We are back to the asteroid belt being a collision of a couple bodies at the very minimum.

    The other HUGE problem is that it appears the the TNO’s and the Oort cloud comet belt are made of the same materials. This is an even bigger problem, as the Oort bodies are so far out there they should have completely different composition as the stuff as close as Pluto.

    Oort is so far out, that ALL the stars in the Milky Way galaxy can fit inside their orbit around the sun.

    As to the Ceres comment about being rich in water, this could easily be a spectrographic artifact brought about by surface roughness. If it has a very rough surface (microscopically) it can actually trap the solar wind hydrogen and oxygen, and combine them to “atomic” water on fractal surfaces. this will give you a spectro reading of water, and you can do some gymnastics and hand waving to show that it is a “stretching” version of water, but with somewhere around 3,000 spectro signatures of water proposed, you can find water wherever you want to.

    there is a lot of debate about whether this is what is happening with the comet researchers and professors right now, they have a lot invested, both in dollars, credibility, and computer time, in the idea that all the comets are made of ice, and asteroids are a totally different, rock and iron based body pool, that it is skewing the science and observations.

    We may find out in 100 years if we keep voting the same bozo’s into office. Or in 10 years if we start mining out there.

    Make a choice, and vote for it. Be able to justify it to the great grandkids why you left them in a polluted well, and maybe explain to them that we had a chance it intercept impactors if we had just done it.

    We are running out of capital by giving it to the banks, and running out of resources for building the infrastructure to get there.

  47. morganism

    solid state astrochemistry in star forming regions

    mid infrared spectrophotometric observations of fragments b and c of wasserman

  48. Alastair

    It makes sense that if the moon and earth have the same water content that they have the same Deuterium ratio. The whole “Volatiles boiled off after impact” never sat well with me as it can explain the moon but not the earth, surely the same impact would have also stripped Earth of its volatile content as well.
    Since we see that luna mantle is just as rich in water as the earth is further proof that they are from the same source (stripped upper mantle from earth).

    We know that the majority of Earths water comes from volcanism. It makes sence that the moon is the same, I think its really the presence of an atmosphere that prevented Earths water from boiling away. The moon couldn’t hold on to an atmosphere so its water was lost to space.

  49. Sam H

    ^A few very strange rants seem to have showed up recently.

    Anyway, @The Tim Channel: Your hardline atheist polemical reaction/rant against Camping has some good points (based strictly on the evidence, we can only really be agnostic), but from my POV it may be incorrect to call someone “nonreligious”. We all need something beyond us to believe in – for most people here, it seems to be the explanatory power of science and skepticism. This need can indeed be suppressed, but not erased, as it appears to be fundamental to the human condition. And even if all religious people are deluded, then this is perhaps the only case where a delusion can be better than truth (independent of whatever the Hitchenses, Dawkinses and Harrises observe in there one-sided rants on religion’s evil) – but based on your dichotomy between the “honestly deluded” and the “dishonestly deluded” you seem to acknowledge this. And I do acknowledge how stupid religion can be in the US – in fact, such things may be a factor in your nation’s imminent decline.

    And as for my comments regarding evolution and my “agnosticism” – evolution is true independent of how I feel about it, but be aware that because of my upbringing and psychology, part of me will ALWAYS remain a diehard Christian fundamentalist (and while I won’t do it on my own kids it wasn’t child abuse, thanku very much Dawkins fans). I can suppress this nature, but what I think about God usually depends on how I feel, especially during these adolescent years. As well, the “who designed the designer?” argument is always a valid question, but it may not apply when we’re talking about things like the big bang – if time didn’t exist before the big bang, then causality becomes meaningless (I know this allows for the universe causing itself without God, but remember that Occam’s razor is only a good rule of thumb, not an inalienable rule of the universe – much less one that can extend beyond and before the universe!) I actually see the cosmological/causality arguments of Aristotle, Kalaam and Aquinas as valid ones; I just always saw point 3 (God caused the universe) as a non sequitur.

  50. Peter B

    Dolphin Guy @ #41 asked: “Why is the moon round if it was knocked off the Earth. With no erosion to ‘sand it down’, as it were, shouldn’t it still look like the same chunk as it was billions of years ago?”

    No, the Moon wasn’t a single chunk struck off the Earth like a chip knocked off a rock by a hammer. It was *much* more than that.

    The theory is that a Mars-sized planet struck the proto-Earth and blasted maybe a quarter of its mass into space. This wasn’t a single chunk. At these sorts of speeds and sizes, this material was mostly vaporised and scattered into space all around the Earth. Many chunks fell back to Earth, some chunks were probably hurled away from Earth permanently, and the rest coalesced into the Moon.

    This early Moon wasn’t a solid chunk of rock. The energy of the impact was such that the early Moon would have been a ball of magma. And it was of such a size that its own gravity was enough to cause it to form the shape of a sphere.

  51. Peter B

    Augustus @ #42 said: “What is clear to me is that the moon was placed where it is, orbitting the Earth like every other body we can identify in space, around 6000 years ago.”

    It may be clear to you, but it’s far from clear to most of the world’s scientists, including many who are devout Christians.

    “The sooner you scientists accept that, the sooner you can begin solving the really pressing problems facing us at the moment.”

    Scientists will hopefully go where the evidence leads, not where their faith requires them to go.

  52. MNP

    This bring to mind a science meta question for a layman such as myself.

    At what point do you go from saying ‘This is the theory of how the moon formed, but we can’t explain XYZ with it yet.” to “There is no good theory of how the moon formed, we just don’t know right now.”

    I’ll point out both sentences are followed by “We need to do more science to find out.”

  53. Nigel Depledge

    Tom (iow) (44) said:

    While the water in what was to become the moon would be vapourized on impact, it would not have anywhere – no atmosphere around it – to boil away into, and would coallesce back into the bodies of the moon and Earth.

    On the contrary, the presence of an atmosphere decreases the propensity of water to boil. Atmospheric pressure increases the amount of energy needed to make water boil. Autoclaves in hospitals (used to sterilise instruments) boil water under pressure, which allows higher temperatures to be reached than would be possible at 1 atm.

    THe absence of any atmosphere at all reduces the boiling point of water to below 0 °C. But the energy of the impact would have put a lot of heat into all of the components of nascent Earth that got blasted off into space (as well as leaving the surface of said nascent Earth molten).

    Once water has vaporised, it would be free to dissipate into the vacuum of space, and would also be subject to bombardment of the solar wind (once it was outside the protection of Earth’s magnetic field, assuming Earth had one that early on).

  54. Nigel Depledge

    Sam H (53) said:

    We all need something beyond us to believe in – for most people here, it seems to be the explanatory power of science and skepticism. This need can indeed be suppressed, but not erased, as it appears to be fundamental to the human condition.

    I disagree.

    It is not necessary to believe in anything to accept the persuasive power of physical evidence. One needs merely to adopt the assumption that our sensory experience of the world correlates directly with a reality that is external to the self.

    And if one does not adopt this assumption, one never gets beyond cogito ergo sum.

    It is eminently possible for a rational human to eschew any need for irrational belief.

  55. Nigel Depledge

    Sam H (53) said:

    but it may not apply when we’re talking about things like the big bang

    But the argument is a direct reference to ID, not anything to do with the big bang.

    ID claimed to be science. Pro-ID authors went to great lengths to claim that the designer does not have to be god (at one point, Dembski went so far as to suggest “the designer” could be “space aliens”). Thus, if ID is science, unmeasureable causation is not permitted and god is therefore ruled out as “the designer”. The central claim of ID is that complexity in biology is a signature of intentional design.

    Putting this together brings you to an infinite recursion. Whatever intelligent agency “designed” life on Earth must itself have been designed. The only way out is to take the “goddidit” cop-out. And if you believe that god caused biological entities to be the way they are, and if you believe god to be both omniscient and omnipotent, then what business do you have trying (and expecting) to find his fingerprints all over biology?

    – if time didn’t exist before the big bang, then causality becomes meaningless (I know this allows for the universe causing itself without God, but remember that Occam’s razor is only a good rule of thumb, not an inalienable rule of the universe

    Actually, it is neither. It is a rule of logical thought. One should never assume the existence of something for which one has no evidence (my paraphrase). To do so is to be irrational.

    However, applying Occam’s razor to reach a conclusion enforces the provisional nature of that conclusion, and forces one to change one’s conclusion if evidence later comes to light that shows the conclusion to be wrong or incomplete. But that’s OK.

  56. Nigel Depledge

    @ Peter B (55) –
    I reckon post #42 is a Poe.

  57. Verisimilidude

    No one seems to be considering that what they have detected is actually earth water that has migrated into the silicates. Many silicate mineral hold lots of water – for instance that is why mica breaks apart so easily, water has taken up positions along the silicate tetrahedron layers that create a weak bond between the layers. If these glass globules have been sitting in an earth atmosphere for 35+ years some earth water has certainly diffused into them. On a molecular level a water molecule is very small compared to a silicate (SiO3) unit which forms a tetrahedron with a fat silicon in the center and oxygens at the corner. In a glass these are arranged in a jumble with lots of room for water to slip in and the water’s oxygen will be willing to swap places with the oxygen from the silicate.

  58. Nigel Depledge

    @ Verisimilidude (61) –
    IIUC, the samples of lunar regolith are kept under a protective atmosphere.

    Edit:
    Yep, a quick check of wikipedia indicates they are stored under nitrogen to keep away moisture.
    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_rock

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