India’s lunar mission finds water on moon (Roundup)

September 24th, 2009 - 8:05 pm ICT by IANS  

ISRO Bangalore/Washington/London/New Delhi, Sep 24 (IANS) In a discovery that has rocked the scientific establishment and hailed as path-breaking, India’s maiden lunar mission has found evidence of water on the moon.
“The moon has distinct signatures of water,” top American scientist Carle Pieters confirmed Thursday, a revelation that has brought space travel one big step from fiction to reality.

“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 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.

Once the mission was abandoned, there were many reports in the Indian media describing the ISRO effort as a failure. But scientists have now been vindicated by this discovery.

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.”

The elated project director of the Chandrayaan-1 mission M. Annadurai said in Bangalore: “The baby has done its job by helping us find water on the moon.”

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,” said Pieters, a planetary geologist at Brown University in Rhode Island.

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.

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.

Two NASA spacecrafts also confirmed the discovery of water by M3.

Scientists around the world rejoiced at the discovery and hoped it would pave the way for growing vegetation in the earth’s natural satellite.

“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.

“It’s a great feat,” renowned scientist Y.S. Rajan told IANS in New Delhi. “It will help make human venturing to moon a more enriching experience. Those going to moon can combine the molecule and get water.

“They can also break it and get oxygen which is a major problem for scientists in space,” said Rajan, who has written the book “India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium”, along with former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Mila Mitra, a scientist formerly associated with NASA, said: “This is truly significant because it will help find any trace of life on moon.”

“Now you will see more money being invested in moon missions. There might be manned moon missions. Now you will see more emphasis on such endeavours,” she added.

The discovery was just the breakthrough international space scientists were waiting for in order to kick start the moon exploration programme again, Britain’s Royal Astronomical Society’s (RAS) secretary Martin Barstow said.

“The discovery of water is significant not only for reasons of science, but also for the sheer practical reason of returning to moon exploration, especially by the US,” said Barstow, who is pro-vice chancellor and professor of astrophysics and space science at the University of Leicester.

Barstow, whose university works closely with Indian space scientists in Bangalore and supplies instruments to the Indian Astrosat programme, said the Chandrayaan-1 finding showed that India had begun to play a vital role in the global space exploration agenda.

Annadurai hinted that more dramatic findings from the moon mission would be published in international scientific journals later.

“This is only the first paper. We had 11 payloads (scientific instruments) on board Chandrayaan-1. We expect more such papers to be published in the coming weeks and months.”

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