December 18, 2008

Moon’s Polar Craters Could Contain Lunar Ice

A lunar base on the Moon may be possible due to craters on the Moon's surface that astronomers believe could hold ice, providing a crucial water supply.

Astrophysicists believe lunar ice could be hidden in the Moon's polar craters that are permanently shaded from the sun.

NASA researchers analyzed data from a space probe sent to the Moon in 1998 that showed hydrogen on the moon is concentrated into craters in the Moon's poles where temperatures are colder than minus 170 degrees Celsius.

Hydrogen, together with the oxygen that is abundant within moon rock, is a key element in making water.

Researchers say if ice is present in the craters then it could potentially provide a water source for the eventual establishment of a manned base on the Moon, sparking a possible platform for exploration into the further reaches of our solar system.

However, researchers say it might not even be water ice, but hydrogen present in the form of protons fired from the sun into the dusty lunar surface.

"This research applies a newly developed technique to data from the Lunar Prospector mission to show that hydrogen is actually concentrated into the permanently shaded polar craters," said Dr. Vincent Eke at Durham University.

He said that water ice should be stable for billions of years on the moon provided that it receives no sunlight.

"If the hydrogen is present as water ice then our results imply that the top meter of the moon holds about enough water to fill up the largest man-made reservoir in Northern Europe," he added.

Dr. Richard Elphic, in the Planetary Systems Branch, NASA Ames Research Center, said the research might be of immediate use in lunar exploration.

"These results will help NASA's soon-to-be launched Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) missions."

LCROSS aims to liberate water by impacting into permanently shadowed polar terrain where ice may exist, while LRO searches for possible polar ice by identifying hydrogen-rich locales.

The findings are published in the International Journal of Solar System Studies, Icarus.


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