Indian spacecraft finds water on the moon

By
  
IANS

Thursday,24 September 2009, 14:48 hrs

Bangalore: In a
sensational scientific discovery, India’s maiden lunar mission
Chandrayaan-1 has found evidence of water on the moon.

“The moon has distinct signatures of water,” top American scientist Carle Pieters confirmed Thursday.

“The evidence of water molecules on the surface of the moon was found
by the moon mineralogy mapper (M3) of the US-based National Aeronautics
and Space Administration (NASA) on board Chandrayaan-1,” M3 principal
investigator Carle Pieters said in a paper published in the journal
Science.

M3 was one of the 11 scientific instruments on board the lunar
spacecraft that was launched Oct 22, 2008 by the Indian Space Research
Organisation (ISRO). The mission was aborted Aug 30 after Chandrayaan-1
lost radio contact with Earth.

Crediting ISRO for its role in the findings, Pieters said: “If it were
not for them (ISRO), we would not have been able to make this
discovery.”

ISRO chairman G. Madhavan Nair had told the media Wednesday that he
could not yet confirm the presence of water on the moon, but “before
the end of this week, we will let you know”.

However, confirming the finding and terming it a major discovery,
Pieters said the discovery of water on the lunar surface would
reinvigorate studies of the moon and potentially change thinking on how
it originated.

“Hydroxyl, a molecule consisting of one oxygen atom and one hydrogen
atom, were discovered across the entire surface of the Earth’s nearest
celestial neighbour,” claimed Pieters, a planetary geologist at Brown
University in Rhode Island.

Though the abundance of the hydroxyl molecules are not precisely known,
about 1,000 parts per million could be in the lunar soil, the paper
noted.

“Harvesting one ton of the top layer of the moon’s surface will yield
as much as 32 ounces (907 grams) of water,” scientists involved in the
discovery said.

As lead author of the M3 findings, Pieters said more evidence of water was found in the moon’s high latitudes.

“It greatly expands current thinking about where water in any form was presumed to be located,” she pointed out.

The findings give rise to interesting new questions about where the water molecules come from and where they may be going.

Scientists have speculated that water molecules may migrate from
non-polar regions of the moon to the poles, where they are stored as
ice in ultra-frigid pockets of craters that never receive sunlight.

“If the water molecules are as mobile as we think they are — even a
fraction of them — they provide a mechanism for getting water to those
permanently shadowed craters. This opens a whole new avenue (of lunar
research), but we have to understand the physics of it to utilise it,”
Pieters noted.

The NASA payload found water molecules and hydroxyl at diverse areas of
the sunlit region of the moon’s surface, but the water signature
appeared stronger at the moon’s higher latitudes.
Two NASA spacecrafts — the
Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) on the Cassini
spacecraft and the High-Resolution Infrared Imaging Spectrometer on the
EPOXI spacecraft also confirmed the data on the discovery of water by
M3.

“This is a very, very important finding… If somehow water was found
on the moon, you could use that water right out there. You could
extract it,” said Amitabha Ghosh, space scientist at NASA.

“Right now, we don’t know what temperature it is, and whether there is a cost effective way of extracting it,” he added.

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