by Elton Gomes
Using data from the Chandrayaan-I spacecraft, scientists have now confirmed the presence of frozen water deposits in the darkest and coldest parts of the Moon’s polar regions, NASA said. Chandrayaan-I spacecraft was launched by India 10 years ago.
With sufficient amount of ice on the surface, water could potentially be accessible as a resource for future expeditions to explore and even stay on the Moon. This water might even be potentially easier to access than the water that was found beneath the Moon’s surface.
Led by Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii and Brown University, a team of scientists used data from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument to identify three specific signs that definitely prove the existence of water ice on the surface of the moon. Richard Elphic from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley was involved in the research.
On board the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, which was launched in 2008 by Indian Space Research Organization, the M3 was uniquely equipped to confirm the presence of solid ice on the moon. The instrument collected data that not only picked up reflective properties expected from ice, but it was also able to directly measure the way in which its molecules absorb infrared light. This was essential so that NASA could differentiate between liquid water or vapor and solid ice.
According to a report in NASA, majority of the newfound water ice lies in the shadows of craters near the poles—here, the warmest temperature never goes above -250 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to the very small tilt of the moon’s rotation axis, sunlight never reaches these regions.
The researchers said that ice on the moon is patchier and less abundant than ice found on other rocky, airless bodies, such as Mercury and the dwarf planet Ceres. As per the new study conducted, only about 3.5 percent of lunar “cold traps” appear to have water ice on their surface. It is possible that meteorite impacts may have disrupted the moon’s supplies of surface and near-surface ice.
Learning more about this ice, in terms of how it got there, and how it interacts with the larger lunar environment will be a primary focus for NASA as humans endeavour to return to and explore the moon in detail. Additionally, scientists can gain valuable clues about the composition and activity of the moon and other icy bodies in the inner solar system, by studying these pockets of lunar ice. Moreover, mining of lunar ice and converting it into rocket fuel could extend the reach of future missions into deep space.
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