NASA discovers water on the moon

Dani Weigand

Just five weeks after the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) impacted the moon in the search for water, NASA scientists have announced the discovery of water on the moon.

On Oct. 9, 2009, the LCROSS Centaur upper stage rocket impacted the moon in the permanently shadowed region of the Cabeus crater near the south pole region. The crater was selected after an extensive review of the most likely places at the lunar South Pole to excavate water ice through the use of a high-energy impact. After impact, LCROSS flew through the impact plume collecting data for analysis.

In a press release issued today, NASA confirmed preliminary data from LCROSS indicates that the mission successfully uncovered water during the Oct. 9, 2009 impact.

Exactly what does this discovery mean for the future of space exploration? Water means more than the proposition of human sustainability on the lunar surface. H2O, can be broken down into Hydrogen and Oxygen, which are elements for rocket fuel that could be used for other trips throughout the solar system.

Because the gravity on the moon is 1/6th of what it is on Earth, rockets leaving from the moon to other planets in our solar system could be launched without having to carry the massive fuel load needed to power out of Earth’s powerful gravity well.  The possibility of developing fuel on the moon is hugely important to the future of space travel.

While the discovery is exciting, there are, as always, special challenges arising from NASA’s announcement.  According to Clark Planetarium Director, Seth Jarvis, “The water LCROSS found exists in a polar crater where the angle of sunlight is so shallow that the bottom of the crater is perpetually in shadow.  That means that processing lunar water using solar power makes the location of the shaded crater bottom relative to a place where you can also collect sunlight for energy is going to be tricky.  As the real estate agents like to say, it’s all about location… location… location.”

Much more detailed surveys of the moon’s terrain needs to be performed to find out just how much water is present. Jarvis continued, “The LCROSS discovery offers a tantalizing and important bit of news that there are significant amounts of water on the moon. Knowing precisely where the water is and learning how it to get at and use the water will require a lot more exploration. But what’s really important here is that we now know that our nearest neighbor in space is very likely a lot more habitable that we’d ever previously thought, and that’s exciting.”

Visit  the Clark Planetarium’s YouTube Channel, for a more detailed look at the LRO/LCROSS mission. The mission video, titled Flight to the Moon was a joint project between Clark Planetarium and NASA to explain in high visual detail the LRO/LCROSS missions and the importance of searching for water on the moon.

As further details become available on the LCROSS findings, they will be published on our blog and featured in the Night Vision show in the Hansen Dome Theatre. For a complete schedule and ticket pricing, visit Clark Planetarium’s website.

Clark Planetarium’s mission is to create and present stimulating educational programs that effectively share astronomy and space exploration information with Salt Lake County residents, Utah students, educators and families, and visitors from around the country and the world.

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Contact: Dani Weigand
801-386-0251, dweigand-at-slco-dot-org

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