Discovery: more than just water in moon's craters

From Science@NASA: Nearly a year after announcing the discovery of water molecules on the moon, scientists have revealed new data uncovered by NASA’s Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO—and it’s more than just water.

Moon Water (lcross, 200px)

An artist’s concept of LCROSS approaching the moon in Oct. 2009. [more]

The missions found evidence that lunar soil within shadowy craters is rich in useful materials. Moreover, the moon appears to be chemically active and has a full-fledged water cycle. Scientists also confirmed that ‘moon water’ was in the form of mostly pure ice crystals in some places.

These results are featured in six papers published in the Oct. 22 issue of Science.

The twin impacts of LCROSS and a companion rocket stage in the moon’s Cabeus crater on Oct. 9, 2009, lifted a plume of material that might not have seen direct sunlight for billions of years. As the plume traveled nearly 10 miles above the crater’s rim, instruments aboard LCROSS and LRO made observations of the crater and debris and vapor clouds. After the impacts, grains of mostly pure water ice were lofted into the sunlight in the vacuum of space.

“Seeing mostly pure water ice grains in the plume means water ice was somehow delivered to the moon in the past, or chemical processes have been causing ice to accumulate in large quantities,” said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

In addition to water, the plume contained “volatiles.” These are compounds that freeze in the cold lunar craters and vaporize easily when warmed by the sun. The suite of LCROSS and LRO instruments determined as much as 20 percent of the material kicked up by the LCROSS impact was volatiles, including methane, ammonia, hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Moon Water (south pole, 550px)

Above: A surface temperature map of the lunar south pole made by LRO’s Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment . The map contains several intensely cold impact craters that could trap water ice and other icy compounds commonly observed in comets. The approximate maximum temperatures at which these compounds would be frozen in place for more than a billion years are noted at right. [larger image]

“The diversity and abundance of volatiles in the plume suggest a variety of sources, like comets and asteroids, and an active water cycle within the lunar shadows,” says Colaprete.

The instruments also discovered relatively large amounts of light metals such as sodium, mercury and possibly even silver. Scientists believe the water and mix of volatiles that LCROSS and LRO detected could be the remnants of a comet impact. According to scientists, these volatile chemical by-products are also evidence of a cycle through which water ice reacts with lunar soil grains.

LRO’s Diviner instrument gathered data on water concentration and temperature measurements, and LRO’s Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector mapped the distribution of hydrogen. This combined data led the science team to conclude the water is not uniformly distributed within the shadowed cold traps, but rather is in pockets, which may also lie outside the shadowed regions.

Moon Water (gun range, 550px)

These experiments at the Ames Vertical Gun Range helped researchers understand the LCROSS impact. Solid impacts send debris to the side (left), whereas hollow impacts result in a high-angle ejecta plume (right). The primary LCROSS impact was an emptied rocket and acted like a hollow projectile. Image credit: Brown University/Peter H. Schultz and Brendan Hermalyn, NASA/Ames Vertical Gun Range. [larger image]

The proportion of volatiles to water in the lunar soil indicates a process called “cold grain chemistry” is taking place. Scientists also theorize this process could take as long as hundreds of thousands of years and may occur on other frigid, airless bodies such as asteroids; the moons of Jupiter and Saturn (including Europa and Enceladus); Mars’ moons; interstellar dust grains floating around other stars and the polar regions of Mercury.

“The observations by the suite of LRO and LCROSS instruments demonstrate the moon has a complex environment that experiences intriguing chemical processes,” said Richard Vondrak, LRO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “This knowledge can open doors to new areas of research and exploration.”

Moon Water (video, 200px)

Click to view videos of the LCROSS/LRO results.

By understanding the processes and environments that determine where water ice will be, how water was delivered to the moon and its active water cycle, future mission planners might be better able to determine which locations will have easily-accessible water. The existence of mostly pure water ice could mean future human explorers won’t have to devise complicated processes to retrieve water out of the soil in order to use it for valuable life support resources. In addition, an abundant presence of hydrogen gas, ammonia and methane could be exploited to produce fuel.

“NASA has convincingly confirmed the presence of water ice and characterized its patchy distribution in permanently shadowed regions of the moon,” concludes Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This major undertaking is the one of many steps NASA has taken to better understand our solar system, its resources, and its origin, evolution, and future.”

Editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

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28 thoughts on “Discovery: more than just water in moon's craters

  1. Robert Heinlein imagined all of these discoveries and more in his prescient novel, “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, first published in 1966. His story line is based upon the relationship between our Lunar colony and the global government on Earth.

  2. Well, since “we’ve been there before”, we can all look forward to those nice Chinese people take up residence, use the resources and be in a position to threaten the world with accurate nuclear bombarment from a relatively unassailable position.
    But, of course, this could never happen – its just a paranoid fantasy. Thank heavens that Obama has correctly captured all possibilities with that pity phrase “we’ve been there before”, we’re all safe and prosperous now, aren’t we?

  3. This is huge. Who knows, in 50 years I might be able to retire to a 1/6 grav apartment.
    Guess I’d better learn Chinese.

  4. That activity, in planets and moons, is clearly determined and defined by its main characteristics, as gravity acceleration and eccentricity. Thus, if we consider earth´s gravity acceleration as Nasa does = 1, then its actual gravity acceleration is 0.981. In the Unified Field Theory, we have defined G and all constants in physics as variable ratios, which are represented by the addition of Sin Y (in this case G/10)+ Cos Y(rest of the field); thus we find that Sin 0.981 corresponds to the angle of about 78.5°, which is the angle which forms acceleration of gravity on the ecliptic (one angle per hemisphere), so the difference=11.5° x 2 = 23 °(the angle of inclination of the earth´s axis on the ecliptic). Thus we can perfectly know what the REST OF THE FIELD amounts: 10-9.81 Nm=0.19 Nm, this being the EMISSION FIELD, which multiplied by V/D (velocity around its axis/diameter) it´s the same as multiplying it by its frecuency: ν, then the result will be expressed in Joules per second, i.e. the earth´s emission field.
    The general equation of the UNIFIED FIELD expresses as:
    E= (Sin y + Cos y)ν
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/38598073/Unified-Field
    See the planets´and moon´s gravity and emission fields at:
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/39961403/Eccentricity-Field
    Note: Our theory is a generalization of the ondulatory theory, where the constant H in Plank´s equation has been replaced, as it happens in real world, by the ratio between two opposite charges, expressed by Sin y + Cos y, where gravity it is, as we have said, always expressed as Sin y from 0 to 90°. In the cases where it is in excess of 1 it is obviously in those cases where the emission field surpasses by far that of gravity.

  5. Good thing that Obama has nixed returning to the moon. No telling what damage man would do to the fragile lunar environment, in the quest to satisfy our western greed, now that we know that we could stay for awhile.
    Has anyone noticed that despite NASA denial, there is actually no real plans to get back into space. “Transformation Research” that might be able to form the foundation of “Future Missions” does not quite do it. Its like randomly putting rocks in the ground and claiming that at some time someone might be able to erect a house on it. Maybe its my training as an engineer working for several very large high tech organizations, but Managerialese and Press Release Speak don’t do it for me.

  6. I am dumbfounded by the irony of Anthony Watts actually citing a SCIENTIFIC website/study, done by actual scientists. Wow! Just Wow.
    REPLY: Well, if you can put your hate based snark aside for a moment, and have a look through the archives, you’ll see that it is a regular occurrence. – Anthony

  7. Why is it that when we don’t have FAITH in the same scientists, some AGW believers don’t think we accept science.

  8. This looks fantastic, but I would rather hope that it is true.
    If so, well, let’s get the tube manufacturers tooled up for all that methane!
    More seriously though, the presence of carbon monoxide suggests incomplete combustion of carbon and oxygen – not enough oxygen, or not enough heat energy? I would suggest the former, but I would be interested in what other readers of WUWT have to say.

  9. Now we just have to send up some carbon dioxide generators and wait for the greenhouse effect to warm the Moon up to habitable temperatures.
    😉

  10. Enneagram,
    I am a simple engineer, but your comment in this post intrigues me.
    I would be so grateful if you would take the time to put your mathematics into words. And briefly, if that is at all possible!
    Thank you.

  11. Larry says:
    October 23, 2010 at 12:58 pm
    ________Reply;
    If there were more real science going on, because of more grant funding available for things other than the non-problem of CO2, there would be articles available for posting.
    “Right now we cannot find the missing diversity of studies into all of the other interesting fields of study, and it is a travesty that we can’t!” (corrected quote)

  12. Fortunately we aren’t depending on NASA. Go SpaceX! One day we’ll see what Jeff Bezos is up to also.
    Just shows how a few unmanned landers and 6 manned landings all near the Moon’s equator can get it so wrong. We should have gone back 35 years ago after a breather and engineering improvements to the hardware.

  13. Engchamp says:
    October 23, 2010 at 1:27 pm
    You have the links I gave there, and if simpler:
    1.-You all will agree we are not fools.
    2.-Then, if we are not fools, we can, rationally, to disentangle the tangle we are in from about 300 hundred years.
    Now, let’s see:
    -In the beginning there were only two things: The Force and the Void.
    -As too many millions of years have passed while both were watching one to the other at the two sides of a dimensionless point,
    The Force at Cos y= -1 and the Void at Sin y= 0,
    Then the Force told the Void: Hey pal, we are getting really bored staying like this, two fools watching one another for the whole Eternity, let’s get move ahead a little, just to see what the heck happens!
    -Thus, both started moving ahead, one, The Force, in the 10 O’clock direction and The Void in the 2 O’clock direction, both describing beautiful arcs to reach a place 45 degrees above its initial position.
    -Then The Void told The Force: Hey, buddy, you look different now!, kind of something electric I can find now in your eyes, complexion and there is an electric halo surrounding you!; and The Force told the Void: Hey, buddy, you look different too!, it seems that there is something Magnetic about you now, hey!, you look really attractive!
    -Suddenly a big and brilliant spark jumped up above connecting them in a kind of inseparable cosmic marriage.
    -Then, both holding their hands together said to one another: Let’s keep on going to see what new marvels we find ahead!
    -Both said: Let’s go then to reach that source of that new light which was born out of the two of us, to that light above, at the Zenith!
    -So they started walking in the direction of the 12 O’Clock.
    -There were just one foot of reaching that supreme point, when suddenly they heard a roaring Thunder from above and both trembling saw a giant and shining Shaking-Spear appearing, coming fiercely down from the Zenith: The Sound roared : You came together up to this forbidden point, where you have just created a Son out from both of you: I am Gravity, the blossom of your coming together, however I am destined to point always from the Zenith down and, with me, you have just gave birth Ground, Matter, over which you’ll walk over forever!. Look at me, behold how both of you surround all along me, the longinus spear, the caduceus!
    We are all but One and so we will stay forever: The force at one side, the Cos y= -1, The Void to the other, the Sin y=0, the Couple of opposites, the two loving partners, Electricity and Magnetism always in love of each other, at Cos y=- 0.7011 and Sin y=+0.7011, always at 90 degrees from each other, forever 45 degrees above their original position. I, Gravity, that living Spear whose purpose is for ever to stick you to the ground being almost the addition of both of you, the addition of 1 and 0, however though I have some affections and passions too, I only reach, on earth the 0.981 level, the difference being the inclination I have for you and because of you, dear parents.

  14. Why doesn’t the ice sublimate after ‘hundreds of thousands of years’? The ‘soil’ should be porous and permeable and connected to the near zero atmosperic pressure. Either the ice is effectively sealed off from the surface by the regolith or the vapor pressure of the water (as ice) drops to near zero at those temperatures?

  15. DesertYote, take a gander at the lunar surface. What could puny humans do to the “fragile envinronment” compared to what natural forces haven’t done already, and will continue to do in the future? All environments are “fragile” when there is an astroid inbound.
    All of your “fragile” environments will be destroyed by natural forces, many times in the virtual blink of an eye. Has happened in the past, and will happen in the future.
    The 20th Century was tame and most bountiful to living things on Planet Earth, being in one of the few and short warm periods, as compared to past times. Just a small interlude that we living humans should be thankful we are living in, and we humans have not been in existance all that long, nor are humans as intelligent as we, in our arrogance think.
    I would far rather live in relative comfort, and let the future look after the future, as will have to be in any event. There is nothing that you or I could ever do to change it.
    So what did the “scientists” think the moon would be composed of? Green cheese, perhaps?
    Sublimation requires a mechanical force, provided by wind, on Earth, and requires that the specific heats of both fusion and vaporization go with the separated molecule of H2O when it changes from its solid state to its vapor state.
    I do hope I got those terms precisely right, as my year of college chemistry was 1953-1054, and my profession was civil engineer.

  16. “. . . possibly even silver.”
    Now that’s progress. I have long thought that the best way to get us back to the Moon was to discover gold there. We’d have grizzled prospectors building backyard rockets in no time!
    /Mr Lynn

  17. fhsiv,
    When a comet hit the moon, it vaporized. Some of the vapor was captured by the moons gravity, and gave a thin atmosphere for a short while. The atmosphere either slowly escaped to space or condensed at the cold poles. In a fairly short while only the frozen polar ice was left until another comet hit. The vapor pressure of water and ice is a function of temperature (as for all other liquids and solids). The temperature in the polar ice was so low that the vapor pressure would take many billions of years to sublime (evaporate) even directly exposed in a vacuum.

  18. LarryOldtimer
    October 23, 2010 at 4:50 pm
    #
    I was being sarcastic, but I forgot the sarc tag 🙂
    BTW, even my friends sometimes have trouble with my sarcasm. But can’t you just imagine greenies coming up with something like that?

  19. “Scientists also confirmed that ‘moon water’ was in the form of mostly pure ice crystals in some places.”
    “… future mission planners might be better able to determine which locations will have easily-accessible water. The existence of mostly pure water ice could mean future human explorers won’t have to devise complicated processes to retrieve water out of the soil in order to use it for valuable life support resources. In addition, an abundant presence of hydrogen gas, ammonia and methane could be exploited to produce fuel.”

    Question to all those logical rational scientific efficiency-minded ecopaths, if you had to choose one which would you select?:
    A) Mine H20 and other compounds from pure ice crystals in some places on the Moon a quarter million miles away,
    B) Extract petroleum and natural gas from coal-shale, offshore wells and arctic/antarctic deserts right here on Earth.
    (yeah I know, dumb question)

  20. More thoughts on this:
    Can we conclude that NASA has determined that the Moon is in a state of Peak Water ot Peak Ice?
    Can the DEC or EPA or IAU now interevene and declare Lunar Water as some equivalent to an Endangered Species?
    Is there a LIWR (Lunar International Water Refuge) in the near future?
    NB: see ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge)

  21. “The suite of LCROSS and LRO instruments determined as much as 20 percent of the material kicked up by the LCROSS impact was volatiles, including methane, ammonia, hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.”
    Carbon dioxide? Ain’t that the stuff…………..?
    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!
    Worse than we thought!

  22. Paddy
    I guess there aren’t that many Heinlein fans around here or everyone is too busy being neck deep in politics to wonder about the future. I admit my Chinese comment came from my deep anger at NASA for not being the pioneers of the solar system that every sci-fi kid wanted them to be. Hell, Virgin Galactic has a more functional space program than NASA. I’m going to send a resume ASAP. Anyways The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is on my recommended reading list as well. Hazel Stone and company would know what to do with the current crop of human hating humans and it might involve a short but fair trial and a shorter trip out the airlock.
    d

  23. Mr Lynn says (October 23, 2010 at 5:02 pm): “ I have long thought that the best way to get us back to the Moon was to discover gold there.”
    Gold isn’t very useful on the moon, and too expensive to bring back to Earth. We’d have to find something even more valuable, like water, to justify a return to the moon.
    Oh, wait… 🙂

  24. To AW
    Reading through to the end of the comments would lead me to believe that snark is where you find it.

  25. Gary Hladik says:
    October 24, 2010 at 8:25 pm
    Mr Lynn says (October 23, 2010 at 5:02 pm): “ I have long thought that the best way to get us back to the Moon was to discover gold there.”
    Gold isn’t very useful on the moon, and too expensive to bring back to Earth. We’d have to find something even more valuable, like water, to justify a return to the moon.
    Oh, wait… 🙂

    Heh, we can have a stable Lunar Currency based on Icewater. Bring on the ComStar Bills (C-Bills) baby! Just about anything is preferable to the inflationary Monopoly money we have now.

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