22/Aug/2014 - Last News Update: 10:06

Ice deposits found at Moon's pole

Category: Headlines

Published: 2nd Mar 2010 05:10:11

A radar experiment aboard India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar spacecraft has identified large deposits of water ice near the Moon's north pole.

The US space agency's (Nasa) Mini-Sar experiment found more than 40 small craters containing water ice.

But other compounds - such as hydrocarbons - are mixed up in lunar ice, according to new results from another lunar mission called LCROSS.

The findings were presented at a major planetary science conference in Texas.

The craters with ice range from 2km to 15km (one to nine miles) in diameter; how much there is depends on its thickness in each crater.

Dr Paul Spudis, from the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, estimated there was at least 600 million metric tonnes of water ice held within them.

The equivalent amount, expressed as rocket fuel, would be enough to launch one space shuttle per day for 2,200 years, he told journalists at the 41st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

What all these craters have in common are large areas of their interiors that never see sunlight.

Temperatures in some of these permanently darkened craters can drop as low as 25 Kelvin (-248C; -415F) - colder than the surface of Pluto - allowing water ice to remain stable.

"It is mostly pure water ice," said Dr Spudis, "it could be under a few tens of centimetres of dry regolith (lunar soil)."

This protective layer of soil could prevent blocks of pure ice from vaporising even in some areas which are exposed to sunlight, he explained.

In February, President Barack Obama cancelled the programme designed to return Americans to the Moon by 2020.

However, Dr Spudis said: "Now we can say with a fair degree of confidence that a sustainable human presence on the Moon is possible. It's possible using the resources we find there."

"The results from these missions, that we have seen in the last few months, are totally revolutionising our view of the Moon."

Robotic fleet

Chandrayaan-1 was India's contribution to the armada of unmanned spacecraft to have been launched to the Moon in recent years. Japan, Europe, China and the US have all sent missions packed with instruments to explore Earth's satellite in unprecedented detail.

In Nasa's LCROSS mission, a rocket and a probe were smashed into a large crater at the lunar south pole, kicking up water ice and water vapour.

Spectral measurements of material thrown up by the LCROSS impact indicate some of the water ice was in a crystalline form, rather than the "amorphous" form in which the water molecules are randomly arranged.

"There's not one flavour of water on the Moon, there's a range of everything from relatively pure ice all the way to adsorbed water," said the mission's chief scientist Anthony Colaprete, from Nasa's Ames Research Center.

"And here is an instance inside Cabeus crater where it appears we threw up a range of fine-grained particulates of near pure crystalline water ice."

Overall, results from recent missions suggest there could be several sources for lunar ice.

One important way for water to form is through an interaction with the solar wind, the fast-moving stream of particles that constantly billows away from the Sun.

Space radiation triggers a chemical reaction in which oxygen atoms already in the soil acquire hydrogen nuclei to make water molecules and the simpler hydrogen-oxygen (OH) molecule. This "adsorbed" water may be present as fine films coating particles of lunar soil.

In a cold sink effect, water from elsewhere on the lunar surface may migrate to the slightly cooler poles, where it is retained in permanently shadowed craters.

Scientists have also reported the presence of hydrocarbons, such as ethylene, in the LCROSS impact plume. Dr Colaprete said any hydrocarbons were likely to have been delivered to the lunar surface by comets and asteroids - another vital source of lunar water.

However, he added, some of these chemical species could arise through "cold chemistry" on interstellar dust grains accumulated on the Moon.

In addition to water, researchers have seen a range of other "volatiles" (compounds with low boiling points) in the impact plume, including sulphur dioxide (SO2).

The results from the Mini-Sar instrument are due to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The team is currently analysing results for craters at the Moon's south pole.


BBC News External Link Show Citation

Latest News

Harvard Citation

BBC News, 2010. Ice deposits found at Moon's pole [Online] (Updated 2nd Mar 2010)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/41112/Ice-deposits-found-at-Moons-pole [Accessed 22nd Aug 2014]

News In Other Categories

  • Tor Project's struggle to keep the dark net in the shadows

    Leo Kelion speaks to Andrew Lewman, executive director of the Tor Project
  • Syria death toll 'more than 191,000'

    More than 191,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict up to April, the UN human rights chief says.
  • Bryan Singer accuser seeks to have sex abuse case dismissed

    A man who claims he was sexually abused by director Bryan Singer is seeking to have his legal action dismissed due to problems securing legal representation.
  • LSE rights issue to raise almost £1bn for US purchase

    The London Stock Exchange is raising £938m ($1.55bn) from shareholders in a rights issue to help fund a £1.6bn acquisition.
  • Bristol Academy extends reach overseas with first foreign students

    With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
  • Food poverty: Experts issue malnutrition health warning

    More people are suffering from malnutrition as a result of worsening food poverty, experts have warned.