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NASA finds water found on the moon

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« on: November 14, 2009, 08:20:42 am »

NASA finds water found on the moon

A "significant amount" of frozen water has been found on the moon, the US space agency NASA said Friday, boosting hopes of eventually setting up a permanent lunar base.

Preliminary data from a moon probe "indicates the mission successfully uncovered water in a permanently shadowed lunar crater," NASA said.

"The discovery opens a new chapter in our understanding of the moon," it added in a statement.

The data was found after NASA sent two spacecraft crashing into the lunar surface last month in a dramatic experiment to probe for water.

One rocket slammed into the Cabeus crater, near the moon's southern pole, at around 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers) per hour. It was followed four minutes later by a spacecraft equipped with cameras to record the impact.



Right - off we go then!
Mars and beyond - here we come!!

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« Reply #1 on: November 14, 2009, 08:38:09 am »

'Significant Amount' of Water Found on Moon

It's official: There's water ice on the moon, and lots of it. When melted, the water could potentially be used to drink or to extract hydrogen for rocket fuel.

The visible camera image showing the ejecta plume at about 20 seconds after LCROSS's impact on the moon. Credit: NASA

NASA's LCROSS probe discovered beds of water ice at the lunar south pole when it impacted the moon last month, mission scientists announced today. The findings confirm suspicions announced previously, and in a big way.

"Indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn't find just a little bit, we found a significant amount," Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator from NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif.

The LCROSS probe impacted the lunar south pole at a crater called Cabeus on Oct. 9. The $79 million spacecraft, preceded by its Centaur rocket stage, hit the lunar surface in an effort to create a debris plume that could be analyzed by scientists for signs of water ice.

Those signs were visible in the data from spectrographic measurements (which measure light absorbed at different wavelengths, revealing different compounds) of the Centaur stage crater and the two-part debris plume the impact created. The signature of water was seen in both infrared and ultraviolet spectroscopic measurements.

"We see evidence for the water in two instruments," Colaprete said. "And that's what makes us really confident in our findings right now."

How much?

Based on the measurements, the team estimated about 100 kilograms of water in the view of their instruments the equivalent of about a dozen 2-gallon buckets in the area of the impact crater (about 80 feet, or 20 meters across) and the ejecta blanket (about 60 to 80 meters across), Colaprete said.

"I'm pretty impressed by the amount of water we saw in our little 20-meter crater," Colaprete said.

"What's really exciting is we've only hit one spot. It's kind of like when you're drilling for oil. Once you find it one place, there's a greater chance you'll find more nearby," said Peter Schultz, professor of geological sciences at Brown University and a co-investigator on the LCROSS mission.

This water finding doesn't mean that the moon is wet by Earth's standards, but is likely wetter than some of the driest deserts on Earth, Colaprete said. And even this small amount is valuable to possible future missions, said Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist for Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters.

Scientists have suspected that permanently shadowed craters at the south pole of the moon could be cold enough to keep water frozen at the surface based on detections of hydrogen by previous moon missions. Water has already been detected on the moon by a NASA-built instrument on board India's now defunct Chandrayaan-1 probe and other spacecraft, though it was in very small amounts and bound to the dirt and dust of the lunar surface.

Water wasn't the only compound seen in the debris plumes of the LCROSS impact.

"There's a lot of stuff in there," Colaprete said. What exactly those other compounds are hasn't yet been determined, but could include organic materials that would hint at comet impacts in the past.

More questions

The findings show that "the lunar poles are sort of record keepers" of lunar history and solar system history because these permanently-shadowed regions are very cold "and that means that they tend to trap and keep things that encounter them," said Greg Delory, a senior fellow at the Space Sciences Laboratory and Center for Integrative Planetary Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. "So they have a story to tell about the history of the moon and the solar system climate."

"This is ice that's potentially been there for billions of years," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator at Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The confirmation that water exists on the moon isn't the end of the story though. One key question to answer is where the water came from. Several theories have been put forward to explain the origin of the water, including debris from comet impacts, interaction of the lunar surface with the solar wind, and even giant molecular clouds passing through the solar system, Delory said.

Scientists also want to examine the data further to figure out what state the water is in. Colaprete said that based on initial observations, it is likely water ice is interspersed between dirt particles on the lunar surface.

Some other questions scientists want to answer are what kinds of processes move, destroy and create the water on the surface and how long the water has been there, Delory said.

Link to Chandrayaan?

Scientists also are looking to see if there is any link between the water observed by LCROSS and that discovered by Chandrayaan-1.

"Their observation is entirely unique and complementary to what we did," Colaprete said. Scientists still need to work out whether the water observed by Chandrayaan-1 might be slowly migrating to the poles, or if it is unrelated.

Bottom line, the discovery completely changes scientists' view of the moon, Wargo said.

The discovery gives "a much bigger, potentially complicated picture for water on the moon" than what was thought even just a few months ago, he said. "This is not your father's moon; this is not a dead planetary body."

Let's go?

NASA plans to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 for extended missions on the lunar surface. Finding usable amounts of ice on the moon would be a boon for that effort since it could be a vital local resource to support a lunar base.

"Water really is one of the constituents of one of the most powerful rocket fuels, oxygen and hydrogen," Wargo said.

The water LCROSS detected "would be water you could drink, water like any other water," Colaprete said. "If you could clean it, it would be drinkable water."

The impact was observed by LCROSS's sister spacecraft, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, as well as other space and ground-based telescopes.

The debris plume from the impacts was not seen right away and was only revealed a week after the impact, when mission scientists had had time to comb through the probe's data.

NASA launched LCROSS short for Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite and LRO in June.

Data from the down-looking near-infrared spectrometer. The red curve shows how the spectra would look for a "grey" or "colorless" warm (230 C) dust cloud. The yellow areas indicate the water absorption bands. Credit: NASA

Images from LCROSS Visible Light Camera reveal a plume reaching 3.7 miles to 5 miles (6 km to 8 km) high just seconds after the spacecraft crashed into our moon. Credit: NASA.


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« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2009, 04:17:33 pm »

Water Discovery Fuels Hope to Colonize the Moon

Hopes, dreams and practical plans to colonize or otherwise exploit the moon as a source of minerals or a launch pad to the cosmos got a boost today with NASA's announcement of significant water ice at the lunar south pole.

The LCROSS probe discovered the equivalent of a dozen 2-gallon buckets of water in the form of ice, in a crater at the lunar south pole. Scientists figure there's more where that came from.

"The presence of significant quantities of ice on the lunar surface catapults the moon from an interesting waypoint to a critical launching pad for humanity's exploration of the cosmos," said Peter Diamandis, CEO and chairman of the X Prize Foundation, which is running a $30 million contest for private moon rovers. "We're entering a new era of lunar exploration – 'Moon 2.0,' in which an international group of companies and governments will use the ice and other unique resources of the moon to help us expand the sphere of human influence, and to help us monitor and protect the Earth."

The water discovery firms up previous detections of the signature of water molecules by three independent spacecraft. But the new finding makes more of a splash in that the detections come from both infrared and ultraviolet measurements, and a lot more of it was detected than scientists had expected.

"It is a big 'wow,'" said Jack Burns of the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and director of the Lunar University Network for Astrophysics Research.

Set up lunar camp

Having that store of water on the moon could be a boon to possible future lunar camps. In addition to a source of drinking water, lunar water ice could be broken into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen atoms, ultimately to be used in rocket fuel. That would mean spacecraft ferrying future colonists to the moon would not have to take fuel for the return trip, or the fuel could be used to launch trips beyond the moon. And water could be used as a shield from cosmic radiation.

"We now can say ... that the possibility of living off the land has just gone up a notch," said Peter Schultz, professor of geological sciences at Brown University and a co-investigator on the LCROSS mission, referring to past detections of water on the moon.

The new discovery comes just as the Obama administration is deciding whether to continue on with NASA's goal of putting astronauts back on the moon by 2020. Today's news could tip the scales toward another lunar leap.

"It's going to boost the interest in the moon, no doubt about it," said with Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist for Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters. "It's going to provide additional information that will inform the decision that will inform the future of human space exploration." He added that the new finding will likely be taken into account when that administrative decision is made.

"In terms of the clearly most practical destination for the next two to three decades for human exploration it has to be the moon," Burns told SPACE.com.

Big challenges ahead

In the midst of floating on "Cloud 9," as Burns described his reaction to the water discovery, are the logistics of actually setting up a lunar colony.

"The devil is in the details," Wargo said, adding, "None of our spacesuits that we currently have would be appropriate for that extreme an environment."

Any materials built for Earth-like temperatures won't work on the moon. "They don't bend anymore, they fracture, and they fracture brittle-y, and so everything gets extremely brittle at those temperatures," Wargo said.

NASA scientists have been quietly working in their tool shops on innovative ways of mining and using the goods.

The water could also be pumped into the roof of a lunar habitat to shield astronauts from cosmic radiation. "So think of it as a layer of insulation like you would have in the roof of your house," Burns said. "Instead of thermal insulation this is insulation from radiation from the sun."

New page in lunar history

When Apollo astronauts visited the moon 40 years ago, the picture was of a bone-dry rock. That picture has only changed within the last couple of decades as scientists began to suspect that the moon's polar regions could hold stores of water ice in so-called cold traps that are permanently in the darkness and can reach just tens of degrees above absolute zero, Burns said.

The LCROSS probe impacted one such cold trap, a crater called Cabeus, on Oct. 9. The $79 million spacecraft, preceded by its Centaur rocket stage, hit the lunar surface in an effort to create a debris plume that could be analyzed by scientists for signs of water ice.

This watery find may just be the first big one with more to come. "This was a random shot in an area of permanent darkness and there may be many more places that could have more of this stuff," Schultz told SPACE.com. "This is like opening Pandora's Box."

"It's been unfortunate that some have said, 'Moon, been there done that,'" Burns said. "We only went to the moon six times and we didn't go to the most interesting places on the moon. There's so much more to discover about the moon just from a scientific perspective, what it can tell us about the formation of the Earth."

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