Nasa ‘Ecstatic’ After LCROSS Impact Reveals Water on Moon
Crash of LCROSS probe on moon throws up water, promising plentiful source of drinking water and fuel for human mission.
Nasa has confirmed that there is water on the moon.
The disovery, announced today, is a result of preliminary analysis of data from the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS. The probe and an accompanying rocket were deliberately crashed into the Cabeus crater near the moon’s south pole last month and scientists have been studying the resulting plume of lunar dust for the past few weeks.
“We’re unlocking the mysteries of our nearest neighbour and by extension the solar system. It turns out the moon harbours many secrets, and LCROSS has added a new layer to our understanding,” said Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist at Nasa headquarters in Washington DC.
Increasing evidence in recent months has supported the idea that there could be water on the moon, though it has been unclear how much and in exactly what form it exists. Finding water is a huge boost for future human missions as it could be used not only as a source of drinking water but also as fuel. Most scientists believe the likeliest places for water are at the poles of the moon, where there are craters in permanent shadow.
Using data from the spectrometers on LCROSS, which examine light emitted or absorbed by materials, Nasa scientists were able to analyse the plume of dust after its Centaur rocket hit the moon’s surface.
“We are ecstatic,” said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “Multiple lines of evidence show water was present in both the high-angle vapour plume and the ejecta curtain created by the LCROSS Centaur impact. The concentration and distribution of water and other substances requires further analysis, but it is safe to say Cabeus holds water.”
LCROSS was a companion mission of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and was launched in June. After 113 days and 5.6 million miles, the LCROSS satellite separated from the LRO and despatched its Centaur rocket to smash into the moon on 9 October. The resulting plume of lunar soil was examined by instruments on the LCROSS probe before it too crashed into the moon.
The new finding confirms earlier research published by the scientists behind India’s Chandrayaan-1 probe, who published data about the existence of water in the lunar soil at the poles back in September.
Further analysis of LCROSS will show in what state the water exists and what other useful minerals are found at the impact site.
“The full understanding of the LCROSS data may take some time. The data is that rich,” said Colaprete. “Along with the water in Cabeus, there are hints of other intriguing substances. The permanently shadowed regions of the moon are truly cold traps, collecting and preserving material over billions of years.”