Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

It’s Cold and Wet at the Moon’s South Pole

22.10.2010
Frozen water just inches below the moon’s surface has been confirmed by an international team of scientists including University of Arizona professor William Boynton.

Based on data the group obtained with an instrument aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, NASA chose the impact site for the LCROSS probe, which slammed into the moon's surface last year in October in an attempt to kick up dust that could be analyzed for the presence of water ice.

The group's findings were obtained separately from the impact experiment and are published in the Oct. 22 issue of Science, which highlights results from the LRO/LCROSS mission in six scientific papers.

"We found significant amounts of water around the north and south poles, in places where previously we were only tentatively thinking of it," said William Boynton, professor in the UA's department of planetary sciences and the UA's Lunar and Planetary Lab.

In addition to confirming water and its distribution in unprecedented detail, the data included an unexpected finding.

"To our surprise, some of the permanently shadowed regions had no water, but some of the areas that receive sunlight occasionally did have water," Boynton said.

In other words, water was found not only where it is supposed to be, but also where it is not supposed to be.

Previously, scientists were convinced water ice could only persist in so-called Permanently Shadowed Regions, or PSRs, places on the moon's surface the sun never reaches. Unlike Earth, whose tilted axis ensures that any spot on the surface receives at least some sunlight at some point during the planet's yearlong journey around the sun, the moon's axis is hardly tilted at all. As a result, some places on the lunar surface are never exposed to sunlight.

"In some of the craters that are close to the north or south pole and have very steep walls, no direct sunlight ever reaches the bottom of the crater," Boynton said.

"At down to -370 degrees Fahrenheit, those PSRs are colder than Pluto, even at noon," added Karl Harshman, a software engineer with the Lunar and Planetary Lab.

But according to the measurements the group obtained using the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector, or LEND, aboard the LRO spacecraft orbiting the moon, there is water even in areas that are exposed to the sun's warming rays every once in a while. Conversely, some of the PSRs turned out to be completely dry.

The data also helped to obtain a more detailed picture of water distribution on the moon.

"The data we obtained in the first three months of the mission helped LCROSS select the impact site," said Gerard Droege, a data analyst in Boynton's group who created the visual representations of the data. "It gave mission control just enough time to tweak the trajectory, and everybody then said, OK, we're going for Cabeus."

"Previous instruments could only tell us that the whole area around the poles is enriched, now our knowledge is much more spatially refined," Boynton said.

To trace the abundance of water on the moon, the scientists took advantage of cosmic particles constantly bombarding every object in space. Since the moon lacks a protective atmosphere, the particles strike the surface close to the speed of light. When they collide with the atomic nuclei in the dusty soil they knock particles off these atoms, mostly protons and neutrons, some of which escape into space. If one of these particles hits a hydrogen atom, which is most likely part of a water molecule, it slows down dramatically, leaving fewer particles fast enough to escape to space.

By measuring differences in the flow of neutrons coming from the moon's surface, the researchers were able to infer the amount of water present in the soil: Areas emitting low neutron radiation indicated water capturing and retaining most of the neutrons, while areas reflecting high neutron radiation identified themselves as dry.

In the PSRs near the impact site in the Cabeus crater near the Moon's south pole, the soil was found to contain up to four percent water.

"The water might be like some form of ice mixed in with the soil, possibly similar to the slightly damp, frozen soil found in Alaska," Boynton said. "We think that in the PSRs, water ice might be present on the surface, but the fact we found it in the partially sunlit areas, too, means the upper three inches or so must be dry dirt, otherwise the sunlight would cause the water to evaporate."

Possible origins of the water on the moon include impacts of icy comets or hydrogen deposited from solar wind, the authors noted.

The study was led by Igor Mitrofanov at the Institute for Space Research of the Russian Academy of Science in Moscow, the agency that supplied the LEND instrument used in this study. LRO is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Media Contact:
William Boynton, Lunar and Planetary Lab, The University of Arizona: wboynton@lpl.arizona.edu, 520-621-6941
Daniel Stolte, University Communications:
stolte@email.arizona.edu, 520-626-4402

Daniel Stolte | University of Arizona
Further information:
http://www.lpl.arizona.edu/~karl/
http://www.arizona.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht First Juno science results supported by University of Leicester's Jupiter 'forecast'
26.05.2017 | University of Leicester

nachricht Measured for the first time: Direction of light waves changed by quantum effect
24.05.2017 | Vienna University of Technology

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

First Juno science results supported by University of Leicester's Jupiter 'forecast'

26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>