Spaceflight Insider

Ice confirmed at the Moon’s poles

This image shows the distribution of surface ice at the Moon's south pole (left) and north pole (right), detected by NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument. Blue represents the ice locations, plotted over an image of the lunar surface, where the gray scale corresponds to surface temperature (darker representing colder areas and lighter shades indicating warmer zones). The ice is concentrated at the darkest and coldest locations, in the shadows of craters. Image Credit: NASA

This image shows the distribution of surface ice at the Moon’s south pole (left) and north pole (right), detected by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument. Blue represents the ice locations, plotted over an image of the lunar surface, where the gray scale corresponds to surface temperature (darker representing colder areas and lighter shades indicating warmer zones). The ice is concentrated at the darkest and coldest locations, in the shadows of craters. Image Credit: NASA

A team of researchers using data collected by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument have directly observed definitive evidence of water ice at the Moon’s poles. While most of the ice at the southern pole is concentrated in lunar craters, the substance is more widely, but sparsely distributed, at the northern pole.

The M3 instrument flew aboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, launched by the Indian Space Research Organization in 2008. A team of researchers, headed by Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii and Brown University and including Richard Elphic of NASA’s Ames Research Center, used M3 data to identify three distinct signatures that definitely confirm the presence of water ice on the Moon’s surface.

Previous observations had indicated the possible presence of water ices at the lunar poles, but those results could be explained by other phenomena, such as unusually reflective lunar soil. M3 came especially well-equipped to confirm the presence of solid ice on the Moon. Not only could it detect the reflective properties expected from ice, but it could also directly measure the unique way its molecules absorb infrared light, so that instrument can distinguish between liquid water vapor and solid ice.

Most of the newly-confirmed water ice lies in shadowed craters near the lunar poles, where the warmest temperatures never reach above -250 degrees Fahrenheit, (-157 Celsius). Sunlight never reaches these areas due to the very small tilt of the Moon’s rotation axis.

If enough ice is on or near the Moon’s surface, water could be accessible as a resource for future expeditions to explore and possibly stay on the Moon. Learning more about this potential source of water and how it interacts with the lunar environment could become a vital mission goal for NASA and its commercial partners as they work to return to and further explore the Moon.

 

 

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Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

Reader Comments

James Lunar Miner

Currently, we seem to be running slow in the Lunar Rovers and Landers Olympics.

“With Nasa disclosing that its payload on board India’s Chandrayaan-1 orbiter has found ‘frozen water deposits in polar regions of the moon’, Isro’s Chandrayaan-2 mission, to be launched in the first week of January, will get an edge as it is going for deeper exploration in the same region — the south pole of the moon.”

And, “Talking to TOI, Isro chief K Sivan said, ‘NASA findings are good and useful. The Chandrayaan-2 lander will do a soft-landing on the south pole of the moon and the rover will analyse the content there.’”

And, “‘Unlike last time when Chandrayaan-1 carried foreign payloads, this time there won’t be anyone.’”

From: “Chandrayaan-2 to dig deep for water or ice on Moon” By Surendra Singh August 23, 2018
At: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/science/chandrayaan-2-to-dig-deep-for-water-or-ice-on-moon/articleshow/65510805.cms

Yikes! Maybe there will be fewer cheap rides to get our “foreign” instruments to the Moon to make important discoveries and gain world-wide attention and glory for NASA and America!

Perhaps the wise folks of India are tired of ‘carrying’ our intellectually incompetent and corrupt ‘Mars Colonies Soon’ blathering politicians and billionaires.

The Moon is the only affordable Olympic space competition we Americans have. Let’s get real serious about the Moon and finding and mining its many resources.

James Lunar Miner

“Truthfully, that kind of thinking led people in the past to even cancel the Constellation Program. That would have put Americans back on the moon by 2020 and set the stage for exploration to Mars and beyond.”

And, “That decision was a mistake. It said to NASA, it said to our country, to the entire world, that America was no longer serious about human space exploration. We talked about going to Mars, but without the moon as the stepping stone, without stronger commercial partnerships to help us get there, a crewed mission to the red planet was not much more than a mirage.”

And, “Last year, NASA began to work with American innovators to design this gateway’s unique electric propulsion system.”

From: “Remarks by Vice President Pence on the Administration’s Space Policy Priorities Houston, TX” Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2018
At: http://spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=51697

High 2,600 to 14,000+ Isp (and thus extremely propellant efficient) “electric propulsion” systems for space tugs powered by solar energy or nuclear power are critical for what we need to affordably do in mining and industrializing the Moon, asteroids, and Mars.

Low 350 to 465 Isp chemical rocket engines and 900+ nuclear thermal rocket engines obviously have their uses, but in general are far too propellant inefficient for powering our space tugs.

We clearly need the high propellant efficiency of “electric propulsion” systems for our diverse, reusable, and economical space tugs that will cost effectively move needed many payloads from LEO to low Lunar, asteroid, or Mars orbits.

James Lunar Miner

China, with the Chang’e 4, seems pretty serious about getting another Lander and another Rover on the Moon.

” It will be the first landing on the lunar far side, an unexplored region of the Moon called South Pole-Aitken Basin,[4] a vast basin in the southern hemisphere of the far side which extends from the South Pole to Aitken crater.[14]”

From: “Chang’e 4” Wikipedia
At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chang%27e_4

Moon Express, a private American company, is also headed to the Moon.

“The first mission, called the Lunar Scout, is planned for 2019 and will use the MX-1E lander.”
From: “Moon Express” Wikipedia
At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_Express#MX-1

And:

“Astrobotic is currently scheduled to launch its first Peregrine lander to the Moon on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket sometime in 2020.”

From: “Astrobotic awarded NASA contracts to develop lunar lander technologies”
By Michael Cole August 22, 2018
At: http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/missions/commercial/astrobotic-awarded-nasa-contracts-to-develop-lunar-lander-technologies/

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