Vast pockets of water ice numbering in the millions of tons have been discovered at the north pole of the moon, opening up another region of the lunar surface for potential exploration by astronauts and unmanned probes, NASA announced.
NASA’s Mini-SAR instrument, which flew aboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, found more than 40 small craters with water ice. The craters range in size from 1 to 9 miles (2 to 15 km) in diameter. Although the total amount of ice depends on its thickness in each crater, it’s estimated there could be at least 600 million metric tons of water ice. The red circles denote fresh craters; the green circle mark anomalous craters. Credit: NASA
A NASA radar instrument on an Indian moon probe found evidence of at least 600 million metric tons of water ice spread out on the bottom of craters at the lunar north pole. It is yet another supply of lunar water ice, a vital resource that could be mined to produce oxygen or rocket fuel to support a future moon base, NASA officials said.
More than 40 craters ranging from 1 mile (2 km) to 9 miles (15 km) wide were found harboring the water ice, which was detected using NASA’s Mini-SAR radar instrument on India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter. The instrument is also known as Mini-RF in NASA parlance.
“After analyzing the data, our science team determined a strong indication of water ice, a finding which will give future missions a new target to further explore and exploit,” said Jason Crusan, program executive for the Mini-RF Program for NASA’s space operations program in Washington, D.C., in a statement.
Water, water everywhere
The ice was discovered in permanently shadowed craters at the moon’s north pole. Similar conditions of perpetual night exist at the moon’s south pole as well, where water ice was also confirmed to be present last year. Because these regions never see sunlight, water can stay in its frozen form indefinitely.
Last September, NASA and other scientists confirmed without a doubt the existence of water ice at the moon’s south pole, as well as signals of water molecules across large areas of the lunar surface. Several spacecraft, including India’s Chandrayaan-1 probe that carried the radar instrument used for the new findings, found hard evidence of water on the moon.
In October, NASA crashed two impactor probes into the lunar south pole in an attempt to kick up clouds of water ice and measure it from an orbiting spacecraft and other space and ground-based observatories. The subsequent analysis turned up significant amounts of water and water vapor in the debris cloud, NASA scientists said.
“The emerging picture from the multiple measurements and resulting data of the instruments on lunar missions indicates that water creation, migration, deposition and retention are occurring on the moon,” said Paul Spudis, principal investigator of the Mini-SAR experiment at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, in a statement. “The new discoveries show the moon is an even more interesting and attractive scientific, exploration and operational destination than people had previously thought.”
The research will be detailed in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
Will astronauts go?
Water ice is a tantalizing find anywhere on the moon because it can serve as a natural resource for astronauts on future lunar landing missions. The ice could be melted into drinking water or be separated into its component oxygen and hydrogen to provide breathing air and rocket fuel, NASA officials have said in the past.
NASA had planned to send astronauts on new lunar landing missions by 2020 as part of its Constellation program. The program was building the new Altair moon landers, as well as the Orion spacecraft and Ares rockets needed to launch ferry them to lunar surface, but experts said it was extremely underfunded and behind schedule.
Last month, President Barack Obama ordered NASA to cancel the Constellation program and focus on using commercial spacecraft to launch American astronauts to orbit instead. The move is aimed at freeing up NASA to concentrate on more lofty exploration missions, such as returning to the moon or sending astronauts to visit an asteroid, stable regions in space called Lagrange points or the moons of Mars.
NASA chief Charles Bolden told members of the U.S. Senate and Congress last week that Mars is expected to be the ultimate destination for astronauts. But the moon, he said, is still a good interim target to serve as a stepping stone for more distant space exploration goals.
Water on the moon is an exciting discovery, even though scientists have suspected the presence water ice for some time. It will be interesting when samples of the water ice are collected and analyzed; will it be pure water or will it contain similar minerals and impurities such as those found in Earth’s water? Could there be ancient frozen bacteria and other lifeforms? NASA scientists have discovered that water creation, migration, deposition and retention are occurring on the moon. Perhaps moon water could be a benchmark for unpolluted water that we could aspire to here on Earth, being free from man’s polluting ways. Hopefully visiting astronauts will take care of the moon’s environment and ensure that the pristine water ice is not contaminated. Perhaps one day the precious ice will be mined and transported back to Earth when our freshwater sources become either too polluted or cease to exist. Water conservation begins with the individual. There is hope for Earth’s water if we all make a concerted effort to save water and stop polluting it. Water Rhapsody Conservation Systems have a number of water-saving & recycling products suited to your needs and pocket.