Yes – you did read that right. The widely accepted notion that the lunar surface is bone dry is apparently wrong. Forty years after man walked on the moon, evidence of the presence of water, the substance required for sustenance of life, has indeed been found there.
India’s first ever lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, was primarily designed to find traces of water on the moon, and has not disappointed.
The Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft contained something termed the ‘Moon Minerology Mapper’, or M3. This collected data by means of measuring sunlight reflected from the lunar surface at infrared wavelengths, dividing the spectral colours found in order to show a highly detailed surface composition. Since every mineral has its own ‘spectral signature’, analysis of this data allowed identification of individual minerals.
The presence of hydroxyl and water molecules was detected, close to the Polar Regions (regions where the original Apollo missions did not go). These findings were compared to those of NASA’s Deep Impact mission, originally begun in 2005, and both sets of conclusions were in agreement. In fact, the Deep Impact mission data suggest that every section of the surface of the moon is hydrated during different parts of the lunar day; the water molecules literally form and then disperse.
There are a few theories as to how this water gets there. It is thought that solar wind may be the key – it brings charged hydrogen ions, or protons, to the lunar soil, and if travelling at a high enough speed, these could break apart oxygen molecules and result in the formation of water.
It is thought that the water molecules may migrate to the cooler poles (a sort of ‘condensation’ effect), resulting in large amounts of water being retained deep within craters as ice.
This belief may soon be vindicated, as this October, NASA launched its ‘Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite’, or LCROSS. This was specifically intended to look for water ice and formed twin impacts at the moon’s South Pole, in the Cabeus crater, colliding at the speed of 1.5 miles a second. Those involved in the study are optimistic: “The LCROSS science instruments worked exceedingly well and returned a wealth of data that will greatly improve our understanding of our closest celestial neighbour,” said Anthony Colaprete, the main investigator at LCROSS.
So, even though the amounts that have been detected currently are minute, these discoveries hold immense potential for the future. For many years, sci-fi literature has played with the idea of man setting up base on the moon, using any water available as a resource to live there. Now, the thought isn’t just a hopeful gleam on the horizon but considered by experts as a distinct possibility.