Scientists Claim Widespread Water on the Moon

Scientists Claim Widespread Water on the Moon

A NASA briefing is scheduled today at 2:00 EDT to discuss recent scientific findings from lunar probes, but the news already has made headlines in many media sources: not only is there water on the Moon, but it is pervasive.

Planetary scientists apparently are as surprised as anyone. Some had theorized that water could have collected from comet impacts over the eons and remained bound up in soil and rocks in permanently shadowed areas of the lunar poles.

Now, data from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (MMM) sensor on India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiting spacecraft reportedly show that water is widespread on the lunar surface. To confirm their findings, MMM scientists looked at data from the Cassini spacecraft that flew past the Moon a decade ago on its way to Saturn, and the Deep Impact spacecraft that went on to study comets. That data confirmed what the MMM sensor detected. The New York Times quotes Lawrence Taylor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville as saying that analysis of the lunar rocks returned to Earth by the Apollo astronauts four decades ago “did show signs of water” but that Dr. Taylor and others “dismissed the readings as contamination from humid Houston air.” Dr. Taylor is quoted as saying that he was one of the scientists back in the Apollo era who was “firmly against lunar water” but now says “I’ve eaten my shorts.”

According to the New York Times, the new results suggest that water is “being created when protons from the solar wind slam into the lunar surface. The collisions may free oxygen atoms in the minerals and allow them to recombine with protons and electrons to form water.”

The presence of water on the Moon could make it easier for astronauts to live and work there, though it would have to be extricated from the soil. What, if any, impact these findings will have on the current debate about the future of human space flight and whether astronauts should return to the Moon remains to be seen.

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