Success is sweet for scientists announcing the discovery of water on the moon.
“The whole experiment was a complete success,” said Val Germann, president of the Central Missouri Astronomical Association. “The only question is now is what do they do next and that’s still up in the air.”
According to NASA scientists, different wavelengths of light reflecting off of debris from a collision between a rocket and the bottom of a lunar crater reveals the presence of water.
In addition, these scientists observed in the footage of the collision colors in the fractured ultraviolet light associated with molecules of hyroxyl, which contains one oxygen and one hydrogen, presumed to be water molecules that had been broken apart.
“They still have the problem that while concentrations that are high on the moon are still pretty low compared to here,” Germann said.
“I think the next step will be to land something in one of those craters and actually do what they are doing on Mars, which is to run around those craters and analyze several places and actually get below the surface at several different locations and see if the initial results are correct,” he said.
More than a month ago a piece of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite crashed into the 60-mile wide, 2-mile deep Cabeus crater near the Moon’s south pole.
“I think the assumption was that on parts of the moon that are not subjected to direct sunlight and are not as bombarded by the solar wind because they’re at a very steep angle to the sun that whatever water was present when the moon was formed would still be there.” Germann said. “So the poles are an area where the scientists were hoping that more water would remain. It seems to have happened that way.”
The mission’s two components consisted of directing a rocket to crash into the crater’s surface; this was followed by a small spacecraft that recorded data about the impact, sending it back to NASA before slamming into the moon itself. With these objects traveling at 5,600 mph toward the lunar surface, their impacts excavated hundreds of tons of the moon as well as at least 26 gallons of water.
Space enthusiasts were disappointed, however, when the live images sent back did not capture the plume created by the first impact.
“I was watching online when the thing hit and they didn’t get the plume they expected, a visible plume, but they did get an indication from the spacecraft that was following the impacter that they did get data. It took them a few days to do the number crunching to figure out what they had and as it turned out even though there was not much of a visible plume there was material ejected into space that the sampling device was able to get a hold of,” Germann said.
According to Germann, you can’t get much better than that. According to the NASA, the LCROSS (or Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) did photograph the impact’s plume but the live video stream was not properly equipped to pick out the details.
Lunar ice, if plentiful, could not only be used as a source of water for future settlers on the moon but could also be broken into its oxygen and hydrogen components to use by astronauts both as rocket fuel and air to breathe.
“Anytime something like this works you’re happy because it doesn’t always work. It answers questions but then there are new questions. How do we get access to it? And how much will that cost in energy and money to get the water? So it’s a good thing because if there weren’t any water there at all we wouldn’t have any of these questions. You really always do want the next questions,” Germann said.