LRO Makes a Map of the Moon’s Water

Article written: 3 Jun , 2013
Updated: 23 Dec , 2015
by

The Moon might seem like a poor place to hunt for water, but in fact there’s a decent amount of the stuff dispersed throughout the lunar soil — and even more of it existing as ice deposits in the dark recesses of polar craters. While the LCROSS mission crashed a rocket stage into one of these craters in October 2009 and confirmed evidence of water in the resulting plume of debris, there haven’t been any definitive maps made of water deposits across a large area on the Moon — until now.

Over the course of several years, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter scanned the Moon’s south pole using its Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND) to measure how much hydrogen is trapped within the lunar soil. Areas exhibiting suppressed neutron activity — shown above in blue — indicate where hydrogen atoms are concentrated most, strongly suggesting the presence of water molecules… aka H2O.

The incredibly-sensitive LEND instrument measures the flux of neutrons from the Moon, which are produced by the continuous cosmic ray bombardment of the lunar surface. Even a fraction of hydrogen as small as 100 ppm can make a measurable change in neutron distribution from the surface of worlds with negligible atmospheres, and the hydrogen content can be related to the presence of water.

No other neutron instrument with LEND’s imaging capability has ever been flown in space.

Watch the video below for more details as to how LRO and LEND obtained these results:

“While previous lunar missions have observed indications of hydrogen at the Moon’s south pole, the LEND measurements for the first time pinpoint where hydrogen, and thus water, is likely to exist.”

What’s so important about finding water on the Moon? Well besides helping answer the question of where water on Earth and within the inner Solar System originated, it could also be used by future lunar exploration missions to produce fuel for rockets, drinking water, and breathable air. Read more here.

Video credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

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9 Responses

  1. Member
    Aqua4U says

    I think it’s time to petition the Obama administration to redirect our space efforts for a return to the moon. Sure, the proposed going to and collecting an asteroid would be a valuable scientific feat… but then again, there are plenty asteroid fragments laying around on the Moon.. and now.. there’s water!

    • shootist MP says

      We need a consortium of government and industry: We need to not only populate a Lunar colony, we need to build O’neill colonies at L4 and L5, send humans to Mars, mine an asteroid and develop Single Stage to Orbit vehicles that take off and land straight up and down, “just like God and Robert Heinlein intended”.

      We have much to do.

      • Member
        Aqua4U says

        I totally agree! and like your reference to Robert Heinlein. He’s been one of my hero’s since I began reading him back in high school!

        Saw a series of TV shows recently about the revolutionary war. Lots of interesting factoids were revealed – stuff you don’t generally get to hear from textbooks. One thing that stood out for me was a quote from Gen. George Washington where he lamented that the wealthy traders in New York really didn’t care who won the war or to get involved in the revolution unless they could make a profit!” aka, “The more things change, the more they remain the same…”

        I think it was Ken Keasy who said something like, “The only way to get the greedy to do anything good for the common man is when they make a profit.” Profiteering the bane and greed is the motto… Nothing one small comet wouldn’t cure? eh? Dzzzzz…

      • shootist MP says

        Too true.

        I witnessed the first lunar landings, I had hoped to witness the second, but I’m reasonably sure I’ll be dead of old age long before we return.

      • Member
        Aqua4U says

        Finding water on the moon is a ‘game changer’. The Obama
        administration’s direction for NASA and current space policy was developed just prior to this information becoming available. These findings SHOULD have been recognized immediately as KEY reason to modify that policy! (DUH!) This is not the first time I have been disappointed by this administration…aka…CHANGE you can forget about?

    • Olaf2 says

      We could visit the other side of the Moon that no human landed before.

    • Member
      Aqua4U says

      Finding water on the moon is a ‘game changer’. The Obama
      administration’s direction for NASA and current space policy was
      determined just prior to this information becoming available. These
      findings SHOULD have been recognized immediately as KEY reason to modify
      that policy! (DUH!) This is not the first time I have been disappointed
      by this administration.

  2. Joel Raupe says

    Not much more than an admittedly well done SVS demonstration of what LEND data is showing us at the lunar south and how neutron suppression shows a signature of hydrogen. Of course, the presence of water on the Moon has now been confirmed in other ways. Its easy, also, to see why Cabeus was selected for the LCROSS impact, and also those permanently shadowed regions not showing neutron suppression.

  3. Ben says

    @Aqua4U:disqus Nasa is focussing on Mars, they had a program called “Constellation” that was all set to return to the moon, but it was massively overrunning in every concevable way. Now that they are working on asteroid and mars missions, it would be disasterous for them to change track now, if they did so, it would be another two or three generations before they could even think about going anywhere.

    If anyone is going back to the moon, it will be private companies, such as Space X, or even China or India given enough time. Sorry to say it but that’s how it is.

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