Water on moon brings colonisation dream nearer

September 25th, 2009 - 1:29 pm ICT by IANS  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, Sep 25 (IANS) Discovery of water on the moon by India’s maiden lunar mission Chandrayaan-1 may bolster US space agency NASA’s long-held goal of setting up an outpost there, a US researcher says.

One ton of the moon’s surface - in which the water’s ingredients are held - could yield as much as 32 ounces of water, according to three reports from research teams who studied data from three spacecraft, including Chandrayaan.

Although that amount isn’t large, geological sciences professor Jack Mustard said, the findings show “there are ways you could convert these amounts of water into higher amounts” that could support human activity.

The water was discovered in rocky environments and in craters, Mustard said. “It’s in more places and in different places than were inferred previously,” he said.

Mustard was on a team led by Carle Pieters, principal investigator for NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper, or M3, carried into space on Oct 22, 2008, aboard the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft.

The mapper was a “state-of-the-art imaging spectrometer” that provided the first map of the entire lunar surface at high resolution, revealing the minerals of which it is made.

Examining data from Chandrayaan-1, Pieters’ team found signs of water at the moon’s frigid poles. The researchers believe it might have migrated from elsewhere on the moon’s surface, attracted by the cold, they said.

Their overall findings also were confirmed by data from a high-tech spectrometer on the Cassini spacecraft - which also found evidence of water at lower latitudes away from the poles - and from infrared mapping done by the Deep Impact spacecrafts - which found trace amounts over much of the moon’s surface.

Reports on those findings came from teams led by Roger Clark of the US Geological Survey and Jessica Sunshine of the University of Maryland.

This most recent information is far more precise than any previous data, Mustard said. Previous measurements were “the size of Texas, say, and now are the size of Providence”.

“We find it (water) distributed more broadly,” he added.

In the late 1990s, scientists found pockets of hydrogen on the moon, and inferred that its molecules could bond with oxygen to make water, the professor said. He called the older information much coarser.

This time, researchers are reassured that the components are on the moon to make water because of the presence of hydroxyl - produced when hydrogen and oxygen also bond with a mineral structure.

The researchers said the results also suggest that the molecules are continually being created on the lunar surface, perhaps as a result of the solar wind - the stream of ionized particles ejected by the sun.

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