August 27, 2013
New Evidence Of Water Below The Moon’s Surface
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Scientists writing in the journal Nature Geoscience say they have found potential evidence of water below the surface of our Moon. NASA-funded researchers, using data from the space agency's Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument aboard the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, have detected magmatic water, or water that originates from deep within the lunar interior.This is the first time scientists have detected this form of water from lunar orbit, however, earlier studies have pointed to the existence of magmatic water in lunar samples returned during the Apollo program.
NASA's M3 took images of the lunar impact crater Bullialdus, which is in a location that allows scientists to better quantify the amount of water inside the rocks. The central peak of this crater is made up of a type of rock that forms deep inside the lunar surface.
"This rock, which normally resides deep beneath the surface, was excavated from the lunar depths by the impact that formed Bullialdus crater," said Rachel Klima, a planetary geologist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). "Compared to its surroundings, we found that the central portion of this crater contains a significant amount of hydroxyl - a molecule consisting of one oxygen atom and one hydrogen atom -- which is evidence that the rocks in this crater contain water that originated beneath the lunar surface."
M3 provided the first mineralogical map of the lunar surface back in 2009, helping to discover water molecules in the polar regions of the moon.
"NASA missions like Lunar Prospector and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite and instruments like M3 have gathered crucial data that fundamentally changed our understanding of whether water exists on the surface of the moon," said Simin P. Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center. "Similarly, we hope that upcoming NASA missions such as the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, will change our understanding of the lunar sky."
Now that they have detected internal water from orbit, scientists can begin to test some of the findings from sample studies, including in regions that are far from where the Apollo missions took place. Researchers used to believe that the rocks from the moon were bone-dry and that any water detected in the Apollo samples was simply contaminated. Kilma says that, now that they have detected water, scientists can compare it with other characteristics of the lunar surface.
"This internal magmatic water also provides clues about the moon's volcanic processes and internal composition, which helps us address questions about how the moon formed, and how magmatic processes changed as it cooled," she said.
Last year, Phil Metzger, a physicist who leads the Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations Lab, said that finding water on the moon could lead to a "water rush" similar to the gold rush in California that took place in the mid 1800s. Metzger hypothesized that water on the moon could lead several companies to stake their claim in the lunar H2O business, including Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology. This company is developing a solar-powered rover designed to search and drill for frozen moon water.