Taking measurements of the impact plume from crashing the used rocket-shell of the LCROSS mission into a crater near the south pole of the Moon, NASA scientists have released the first findings: Yes, there is water on the Moon, and at least in this particular crater, a fair amount of it.
Good. This will give NASA planners something to think about besides budget cuts. It’s been known for many years that there are signs of at least minute amounts of H20 and also H0 (hydroxyl) on the Moon. This was confirmed by measurements taken in September 2009 by India’s Chandrayaan-I mission. There is at least a surface layer of a few millimeters of regolith that at least in some areas contains a very small amount of water. However, after the dust settled on that discovery, the question remained, “Was it enough water to validate expensive extraction techniques?”
The new figures, taken by spectroscopic measurement from material ejected from the bottom of the southern pole Cabeus crater, indicate that in the permanent shadows the Moon may harbor much more water – in fact, the figure given by NASA was about 100 liters (26 gallons) of water in the 25-35 meter impact hole.
“We are ecstatic,” said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “Multiple lines of evidence show water was present in both the high angle vapor plume and the ejecta curtain created by the LCROSS Centaur impact. The concentration and distribution of water and other substances requires further analysis, but it is safe to say Cabeus holds water.”
This first discovery and its celebration are important for interest in space exploration in general and for further missions to the Moon. However, as with all scientific results, there will need to be some serious checking of the data analysis and probably another probe or two to confirm the potential quantity of (usable) water. The key question with the Moon remains, “How much water?”