Water has long been suspected to exist in the permanently shadowed polar craters on the Moon, and now the LCROSS impact has allowed scientists to make a direct and definitive finding of this precious resource in a place NASA and other space agencies are considering exploring with human expeditions. Many say this could be a game-changing discovery for the future of lunar science and exploration. Unlike the previous announcement in September of water on the Moon, where water exists diffusely across the moon as hydroxyl or water molecules adhering to the surface in low concentrations, this new discovery could mean underground reservoirs of water ice. “There is too much water to be just absorbed in the soil,” said Anthony Colaprete of the LCROSS mission at Friday’s press conference. “There has to be real solid ice there. You could melt it and drink it.”
But could you really drink it? “Well, not if it has methanol in it. We need to sort out the flavor of the water,” said Colaprete, “meaning we need to find out if it is water, ice, or vapor. We still need to do that math.”
Colaprete said from the amount of water the spectrometers on the LCROSS spacecraft detected, initial indications are it is ice. However, Colaprete added that the impacting Centaur upper stage didn’t hit appear to hit something hard and frozen, from the images of the crater.
If someone was walking on the Moon and was able to walk in Cabeus crater where the impact took place, would the regolith there look different compared to other places on the Moon? “That’s a good question – and we’ve been talking about that,” Colaprete said. “It would be an interesting place to walk around. With our near infrared camera we can relate the the data to what the human eye can see, and try to understand what the terrain looks like. We never saw the crater floor before impact, but now we can see what the floor looks like.”
Did they find anything else in the plume created by the impact? “We’re seeing a lot of stuff,” Colaprete said. “I think there’s a little bit of everything. We’re seeing other emission lines in the spectroscopic data we haven’t completely identified. We’re still working on those — I don’t know what all else is in there just yet. We’ve been focusing on the water quest so far.”
As to whether they’re seeing any organics, the team couldn’t yet say definitively. Colaprete said they are seeing compounds similar to those seen previously in asteroids and comets.
“This is only another snapshot in time of our understanding of the moon,” said Mike Wargo, NASA’s chief lunar scientist, ” and we’ll be continuing to work to get more details on the water and everything else. We’re not done yet.”