Using data from a NASA radar that flew aboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, scientists have detected ice deposits near the moon’s north pole. NASA’s Mini-SAR instrument, a lightweight, synthetic aperture radar, found more than 40 small craters with water ice. The craters range in size from 1 to 9 miles (2 to15 km) in diameter. Although the total amount of ice depends on its thickness in each crater, it’s estimated there could be at least 1.3 trillion pounds (600 million metric tons) of water ice.
The Mini-SAR has imaged many of the permanently shadowed regions that exist at both poles of the Moons. These dark areas are extremely cold and it has been hypothesized that volatile material, including water ice, could be present in quantity here. The main science object of the Mini-SAR experiment is to map and characterize any deposits that exist.
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.