Thursday, October 8, 2009

Water on the Moon

Posted by Kirk Mona
At a NASA press conference recently, scientists with Chandrayaan-1 mission revealed fascinating results from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper. The Chandrayaan-1 is a joint project between NASA and India and marks India's first mission to the moon. Chandrayaan is Sanskrit for "lunar craft." The onboard mapper is imaging the entire surface of the moon in high spatial and spectral resolution. It will also reveal the minerals composition of the lunar surface. Results from the mapping were released today and there's a whopper of a conclusion. There's water on the moon. Lots of it.

Well, lots being a relative term. One of the scientists who discovered the water, University of Maryland astronomer Jessica Sunshine said, "If you took a two-liter soda bottle of lunar dirt, there would probably be a medicine dropperful of water in it." That may not seem like a lot to us earthlings who are awash in water but it is significant for the moon.

This news comes just as NASA is about to purposefully crash the LCROSS spacecraft and its Centaur booster rocket into a crater near the moon's south pole so they can analyse the plume they send up. Backyard astronomers with scopes of at least 10 inches may be able to see the impact (or at least the resulting plume) though their telescopes. Impact is tomorrow morning (Friday) at 6:30 AM CDT.

NASA is hoping to find evidence of water in the resulting plume and the confirmation of water by Chandrayaan-1 makes it likely. Why does all this matter? Getting stuff to the moon is expensive. It costs $30,000 for every liter of water NASA ships to the moon. And you thought bottled water was expensive on earth! If we ever build a lunar base, not having to bring water to the moon will save an enormous amount of money. Water can also be split via electrolysis into its primary parts both of which would be useful to a lunar colony. Oxygen is useful for breathing while hydrogen is useful as a fuel. Water on the Moon is a huge step toward a lunar colony.