moon surface

Nasa calls for renewed Moon exploration after finding frozen water at the poles

Image credit: DT

Nasa scientists have found definitive evidence of ice water on the Moon’s surface which could open the door to more thorough human explorations of our nearest celestial neighbour.

The ice deposits are patchily distributed and could possibly be ancient. At the southern pole, most of the ice is concentrated at lunar craters, while the northern pole’s ice is more widely but sparsely spread.

In an interview with Reuters, Nasa Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the water could allow for renewed and “sustainable” human exploration of the Moon.

“We know that there’s hundreds of billions of tons of water ice on the surface of the moon,” he said.

A team of scientists used data from Nasa’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument to identify three specific signatures that definitively prove there is water ice at the surface of the Moon. M3, aboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, launched in 2008 by the Indian Space Research Organisation, was uniquely equipped to confirm the presence of solid ice on the Moon.

It collected data that not only picked up the reflective properties we’d expect from ice, but was able to directly measure the distinctive way its molecules absorb infrared light, so it can differentiate between liquid water or vapour and solid ice. The findings, published on Monday, mark the first time scientists have confirmed by direct observation the presence of water on the Moon’s surface.

Most of the newfound water ice lies in the shadows of craters near the poles, where the warmest temperatures never reach above -250 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of the very small tilt of the Moon’s rotation axis, sunlight never reaches these regions.

The discovery holds tantalising implications for efforts to return humans to the moon for the first time in half a century. The presence of water offers a potentially valuable resource not only for drinking but for producing more rocket fuel and oxygen to breathe.

Bridenstine, a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot and Oklahoma congressman was tapped by President Donald Trump in April as to become Nasa’s chief.

Reuters reported that Nasa lunar scientist Sarah Noble said that it is still unknown how much ice is actually present on the moon and how easy it would be to extract in sufficient quantities to be of practical use.

“We have lots of models that give us different answers. We can’t know how much water there is,” she said, adding that it will ultimately take surface exploration by robotic landers or rovers, in more than one place, to find out.

Learning more about this ice, how it got there, and how it interacts with the larger lunar environment will be a key mission focus for Nasa in the future.

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