NASA’s latest unmanned missions to the moon have scientists rethinking their concepts of Earth’s closest neighbor.
Forget almost everything you ever thought you knew about the moon.
NASA’s latest missions indicate the moon is much more than a dead, unchanging satellite orbiting Earth. It’s a dynamic environment, with changes occurring by the day and week, not over millions of years.
The space agency says the missions are rewriting lunar science text books and revolutionizing what scientists know about Earth’s closest neighbor.
An announcement in November probably rivaled Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the surface more than 40 years earlier: There’s water on the moon.
The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or L-CROSS, and its companion spacecraft crashed into a crater at the moon’s south pole in October and discovered water in a very dark and very cold place. L-CROSS researchers said about 25 gallons of water were detected in the crater, which measured about 60 feet wide by a few feet deep.
A photo from Cassini shows sunlight reflecting from a giant lake of methane on the northern half of Saturn’s moon Titan.
NASA scientists revealed Friday a first-of-its-kind image from space showing reflecting sunlight from a lake on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
It’s the first visual “smoking gun” evidence of liquid on the northern hemisphere of the moon, scientists said, and the first-ever photo from another world showing a “specular reflection” — which is reflection of light from an extremely smooth surface and in this case, a liquid one.
“This is the first time outside Earth we’ve seen specular reflection from another liquid from another body,” said Ralf Jaumann, a scientist analyzing data from the Cassini unmanned space probe.
Jaumann said he was surprised when he first saw the photos transmitting from Cassini, orbiting Saturn about a billion miles from Earth.
“It was great because if you look at photos of planets, you mostly see nothing is happening. But in two hours we saw a glint of light getting brighter.”
Spacecraft that crashed into the moon last month kicked up a relatively small plume. But scientists have confirmed the debris contained water — 25 gallons of it — making lunar exploration exciting again.
The lunar dud for space enthusiasts has become a watershed event for NASA.
Experts have long suspected there was water on the moon. So the thrilling discovery announced Friday sent a ripple of hope for a future astronaut outpost in a place that has always seemed barren and inhospitable.
“We found water. And we didn’t find just a little bit. We found a significant amount,” Anthony Colaprete, lead scientist for the mission, told reporters as he held up a white water bucket for emphasis.
He said the 25 gallons of water the lunar crash kicked up was only what scientists could see from the plumes of the impact.
NASA Announces Discovery Of Lunar Ice Field Nov 13 2009
Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator from NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California:
Scientists have long suspected that permanently shadowed craters at the south pole of the moon could be cold enough to sustain water frozen at the surface and have been analyzing a mile-high plume of debris kicked up by the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite.
(Water has already been detected on the moon by a NASA-built instrument on board India’s now defunct Chandrayaan-1 probe and other spacecraft, though it was in very small amounts and bound to the dirt and dust of the lunar surface)
NASA plans to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 for extended missions on the lunar surface.
Indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn’t find just a little bit, we found a significant amount
Scientists have found “significant” amounts of water in a crater at the moon’s south pole, a major discovery that will dramatically revise the characterization of the moon as a dead world and likely make it a more attractive destination for future human space missions.
“The moon is alive,” declared Anthony Colaprete, the chief scientist for the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission.
That mission used a rocket Oct. 9 to punch a hole about 100 feet across in the moon’s surface, then measured about 25 gallons of water in the form of vapor and ice. While that’s not even enough to swim in, it could indicate sufficient water in permanently shaded craters at the poles for future astronauts to live off the land.