26 Gallons of Water Discovered on the Moon

Published on November 18th, 2009 | by

A “significant amount” of water has been discovered on the Moon by NASA scientists. The news follows last month’s lunar crash involving the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (Lcross), which many referred to as NASA’s mission to “bomb the Moon“. The whole purpose of this mission was to see if water vapor or ice would be revealed in the debris resulting from the bombing.  100s of tons of the Moon’s surface was “excavated”by Lcross resulting in “at least 26 gallons of water“.

Photo by opoterserWater discovered on the Moon
Water discovered on the Moon

The New York Times explains how water was discovered by Lcross:

The water findings came through an analysis of the slight shifts in color after the impact, showing telltale signs of water molecules that had absorbed specific wavelengths of light. We got good fits, Dr. Colaprete said. It was a unique fit.

The scientists also saw colors of ultraviolet light associated with molecules of hydroxyl, consisting of one hydrogen and one oxygen, presumably water molecules that had been broken apart by the impact and then glowed like neon signs.

Lcross’ mission was to explore the “dark side of the moon”. In fact, some of the debris unearthed in the impact had “not seen sunlight in billions of years”, according to NASA.  It took the satellite 113 days to travel nearly 5.6 million miles to its destination in the Cabeus crater near the south pole.

Just what does this discovery mean for the space program? Plans to send humans back to the surface of the Moon in 2020 have been scrapped due to budgetary restraints, but scientists are excited lunar ice may be used not only for drinking water but rocket fuel in the future. Skeptics claim the future usability of the water is questionable. University of Maryland physicist Robert Park explains in the Guardian:

They’ve haven’t found a big reservoir of it. I suspect this is just water clinging to the soil particles. It’s of almost no value at all. The amount of machinery you’d have to move up there to try to recover it you’d have to do a lot before you could pay for the cost of that.

In addition to providing a source of fuel, NASA believes lunar ice could reveal new information about the “evolution of the solar system“. One has to wonder what kind of environmental damage water exploration on the Moon may cause, but the results are exciting. Perhaps one day we will be discussing “lunar warming” and the loss of ice on the Moon as a result of NASA missions.

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