India’s probe first to sniff water on moon (Second Lead)

September 25th, 2009 - 8:52 pm ICT by IANS  

ISRO Bangalore, Sep 25 (IANS) India’s Moon Impact Probe (MIP) was the first instrument to detect water on the moon - way back in November last year when the spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 entered lunar orbit, space agency chief G. Madhavan Nair said here Friday.
“I am happy to share for the first time with all of you that the MIP, while it was descending from Chandrayaan to the moon Nov 14, 2008, picked up strong signals of water particles on the lunar surface,” the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman told reporters here.

During its 20-minute descent from the Chandrayaan mother spacecraft until its impact near the pole, the 34-kg probe found the water particles varying from the lunar equator.

The variation is under increasing trend. It is clearly coinciding with the observation from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) data of the US-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

“So, we have now multiple ways of confirming the presence of water on the moon. This is being acknowledged the world over as a real discovery. It is a path-breaking event as far as ISRO is concerned,” an elated Nair said.

The mass spectrometre in the MIP registered signatures of hydrogen, helium, oxygen, carbon dioxide and water.

“In that signature, we could see a strong component corresponding to a mass fraction of 18, which is nothing but water. We had a serious doubt at that time. From the initial data, we could see a clear trend of increasing magnitude in the water molecules as it goes towards the poles. It is in line with what has come from M3,” Nair pointed out.

The spectrometre also measured the constituents of the thin lunar atmosphere during the 20-minute descent.

After the probe hit the lunar surface, the spectrometre analysed the chemicals and minerals of the moon and relayed the data to the earth.

M3 principal investigator Carle Pieters confirmed in a paper published in Science Express, Sep 24 edition, that Chandrayaan-1 found evidence of water on the lunar surface.

M3 was one of the 11 scientific instruments onboard Chandrayaan that the ISRO launched with fanfare Oct 22, 2008, but the lunar mission had to be aborted Aug 30 after it lost radio contact with the earth.

The Hyper-Spectral Imager (HySI) of ISRO supported M3 in recording the water signature very clearly.

In addition, NASA has got confirmation about the presence of water from the data sent by its Deep Impact Probe, which observed the moon for a week June 2-9, 2009, and from the analysis of archived data of lunar observation by its Cassini in 1999 on its way to Saturn.

“We had indication of this (water on moon) way back in June. But we did not want to announce it for the simple reason this is of such a global significance. It has to come in one of the well-established journals and Science Express has brought out this article. We have timed the announcement to that event,” Nair clarified.

Admitting that the water was not in the form of a sea, lake or even a puddle, Nair said it was embedded in the surface, minerals and rocks.

“We have clear indication that hydroxyl (OH) and water (H2O) molecules are present on the surface. The quantity found is much larger than what we expected. This is a real finding and we are happy to say that starting from 70 degrees latitude (of the moon) to the polar region, the intensity of the signatures goes up,” Nair noted.

The data has also revealed the temperature and variation of the content of the water on the surface.

“To extract water out of this, we have to evolve techniques and if we process one tonne of the soil, we may get half-litre of water. So, that is going to be the real challenge,” Nair said.

Terming the stunning discovery as the first in the history of space research, the top scientist said it was only a small step towards the scientific exploration of the planetary system.

“We have to go a long way. Our own instruments (five) have sent volumes of data, which are being compiled and analysed. It may take anywhere between six months and three years for the scientists to digest the massive data. More interesting findings will come out of this maiden lunar mission,” Nair added.

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