London, September 19 (ANI): Two separate lunar missions have found evidence which indicates that the polar regions of the moon are chock full of water-altered minerals.
According to a report in Nature News, early results from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), launched on June 18, are offering a wide array of watery signals.
The Moon, in fact, has water in all sorts of places: not just locked up in minerals, but scattered throughout the broken-up surface, and, potentially, in blocks or sheets of ice at depth.
"We are on the verge of a renaissance in our thinking about the poles of the Moon, including how water ice gets there," said Anthony Colaprete, principal investigator for the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), which on October 9, will slam into a polar crater with the intention of ploughing up a plume of water ice for many telescopic eyes to see.
The initial LRO results confirm what was long suspected as a way for ice to stay trapped on the Moon for billions of years.
A thermal mapping instrument showed that permanently shadowed regions within deep polar craters are as cold as 35o Kelvin (-238o Celsius).
Project scientist Richard Vondrak said that they are the coldest spots in the Solar System - even colder than the surface of Pluto.
Variations in the flux of neutrons suggests variability in water content among craters.
But, the surprise comes from a different instrument on LRO, which counts slow-moving neutrons as a way of measuring hydrogen abundance in the top metre or so of the surface.
This hydrogen is often interpreted as a proxy for water ice, although it could also be molecular hydrogen or hydrogen trapped in other molecules.
The LRO instrument has already found a significant excess of hydrogen at the poles.
But, with added resolution, it is seeing surprising variability within the polar regions. Some of the craters appear enriched in hydrogen. Others are not.
Stranger still, some areas outside the crater walls, which were thought to get too hot for water to linger, show an excess of hydrogen.
Vondrak said this shows that the water could have arrived more recently, or that it can persist if buried as impacts till the lunar soil.
If the LCROSS impact spews up ice, it will eliminate the last vestiges of doubt about water on the Moon.
It could also start a new hunt: to find a record of impact events, such as water-rich comet strikes, that put the ice there in the first place. (ANI)