NOTE: For the latest on NASA’s LCROSS impacts on the Moon, click here.
UK scientists have identified areas of the Moon where they believe astronauts could find water, they reveal today. And they conclude that there may be enough spread across the lunar surface to fill one of the biggest reservoirs in Europe.
Their results will help NASA which is preparing missions to return astronauts to the Moon and set up colonies there.
The Moon is generally considered an airless, desert world. But scientists believe ice may be lying within craters close to its north and south poles which never get any sunlight.
It is impossible to see into those craters from Earth, although radar has been used to examine them with discouraging results.
But now Dr Vincent Eke, of Durham University, is more hopeful of finding water after working with colleagues from Glasgow to examine data sent back by a NASA spaceprobe.
They used computers to analyse data from Lunar Prospector in 1998 to find that hydrogen is concentrated in craters where temperatures are colder than -170 Celsius.
They believe it could combine with oxygen that is plentiful within moonrock to make water. This ice would potentially provide a valuable source of water for a manned base and save the effort and expense of delivering it from Earth. NASA has previously launched a $250,000 competition to find ways to extract air from moondust.
The findings are published in the International Journal of Solar System Studies, Icarus. The research shows that if the hydrogen is present as water ice, then there could be an average of ten grams of ice (a third of an ounce) in each kilogram (2.2 lb) of moonrock in the craters.
Dr Eke, of Durham’s Institute for Computational Cosmology, said: “This research applies a newly developed technique to data from the Lunar Prospector mission to show that hydrogen is actually concentrated into the permanently shaded polar craters.
“Water ice should be stable for billions of years on the Moon provided that it receives no sunlight. If the hydrogen is present as water ice then our results imply that the top metre of the moon holds about enough water to fill up Kielder Water.”
Kielder Water, in Northumberland, England, holds 200,000 million litres (44,000 million gallons) of water, making it the largest UK man-made reservoir in Northern Europe.
An unmanned NASA probe, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LCROSS), is due to launch in April 2009 to fire a missile into a crater near the Moon’s south pole to see if it releases any water.
Picture: An artist’s impression of LCROSS firing its missile at the Moon. (Credit: NASA).
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