There could be water on the moon, according to some new data that’s just come to light.
Yesterday evening, Science announced that later today, three papers will be released that describe evidence for water on the moon that is being called “unambiguous.” Each paper provides data from a different instrument, and there are some substantial differences among them, but all agree on the basics: there is a spectroscopic signal that generally indicates the presence of water, and there appears to be more water in the cooler areas of the moon, such as the poles.
Despite a flood of evidence, a single event set off the entire process: India’s nascent space program sent its first mission, Chandrayaan-1, to study the surface of the moon. NASA had some hardware on the probe, called the Moon Mineralogy Mapper or M3, that tracked the composition of the lunar surface by running its emissions through a spectrograph, which can detect the emissions specific to certain chemicals. In the infrared area of the spectrum, it spotted a feature that’s indicative of the stretching of bonds between hydrogen and oxygen. Typically, that’s interpreted as water. (Source)
Neat! Unfortunately this isn’t a case of actually seeing pools of water on the moon or anything – we’re talking spectroscopic analysis here, not any sort of direct imaging. Also the water would presumably be under the surface, away from prying human eyes. Still, it’s an interesting discovery. As always with substances, objects or just about anything else in the universe (except life, so far), water appears to be more common and appears to exist in more plentiful supply in the universe than we previously thought. It will be exciting if this stuff turns out to actually be usable, since it would presumably make it a lot easier to establish some sort of Lunar colony.
Of course, there’s one easy way to find out how much of something is below the surface of a moon: crash a probe into it! They did the same thing with asteroids. I have to say, I love the idea of having an ‘impact night event’ (AKA crazy science party; we could get cakes shaped like H2O molecules!). What will you be doing to celebrate October 8th?