Friday, October 22, 2010

Water on the moon!

Now this one is just simply awesome.

NASA recently published several research papers on an experiment they conducted in 2009. The experiment consisted of bombarding moon craters and detecting the debris that was released from the impact using LCROSS (the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite). Spectrometers, radiometers, and several cameras were used to detect the presence of chemicals within the debris. What they found? water vapor, hydroxyl radicals (that nasty stuff that tends to damage human DNA), sulfur compounds, CO2, and various hydrocarbons. The satellite was even able to estimate the amount of water that was present in the ejection, nearly 155kg!

Now, before anyone jumps for joy and starts fantasizing about moon colonies and moon vacations to moon beaches, recall that the vast majority of that water is in the form of ice. Even when measured by LCROSS it was in the form of water vapour, not the familiar liquid we're used to. The NASA team conducting the experiment are saying however that around 11-12 gallons could be extracted from about 1 tonne of moon rock! That's a substantial amount, especially for visiting astronaughts.

It's interesting to note that frost-like water is not distributed equally but in "oases" across various parts of the moon, leading to the hypothesis that this is actually ancient water brought by asteroids or comets.

At that quantity of water though, one can't help but think of a moon resource-extraction colony supplying space travelers on their way to far off planets; to even think that in the next 10 years we could have dedicated structures operating on the moon makes one feel giddy. At worst the drill operations would simply break through the  moon causing havoc for the people of earth, not unlike that god-awful remake of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine.

Here is the link to the various scientific papers discussing the findings:

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/330/6003/463

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