Does the earth’s moon have water across its entire body, or only within dark, permanently shadowed craters? It was thought that pockets of ice water could only exist in the shadowed areas, because other areas of the moon are bathed in sunlight. As a result, any ice exposed to the 250-degree heat in those areas, would simply vanish as the water vaporizes into space. However, at the moon’s poles, craters exist that have permanently shadowed floors. These craters may have water ice in them, and LCROSS (the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite) is on a mission to discover water in one such crater.
LCROSS will measure the molecules thrown into the air when the Centaur rocket impacts the Cabeus A crater near the lunar south pole on October 9, 2009. LCROSS, too small to make a large enough impact itself, piggybacked onto the Centaur. The two will separate and LCROSS will follow the Centaur by four minutes, recording the results of the larger rocket’s impact. LCROSS will then send those measurements back to mission control. Everyone can watch the live coverage of the impacts on Nasa TV beginning at 3:30 a.m. PDT.
However, a mere two weeks before LCROSS is scheduled to impact the crater, new studies indicate the the moon does indeed have water – all across its surface, in low concentrations. The Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3), a device on India’s Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft, as well as data from Cassini’s 1999 flyby of the moon, both show spectrometry data that indicates that water is everywhere on the moon. However, this layer of water hugs the surface and is extremely thin. The accumulation of the entire amount would be less than what our hottest desserts have.
If the data from M3 is correct, and LCROSS successfully finds water on October 9th, we may have a moon that has far more water than we ever imagined before. That could mean the possibility of lunar space stations in the future. Who wants to be the first to sign up?