The Darkest Parts of the Moon are Revealed with NASA’s New Camera

This new mosaic of Shackleton Crater on the Moon was obtained with a combination of images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) and ShadowCam. (Credit: Mosaic created by LROC (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) and ShadowCam teams with images provided by NASA/KARI/ASU)

While the surface of the Moon has been mapped in incredible detail over the last several decades, one region has eluded orbital cameras due to the lack of sunlight, which are aptly called the permanently shadowed regions (PSRs) of the Moon. However, two cameras operating on two different lunar orbiters have recently worked in tandem to produce a stunning mosaic image of the lunar south pole’s Shackleton Crater, a portion of which resides directly on the lunar south pole and whose depths have been shrouded in complete darkness for possibly the last few billion years. As a result, scientists hypothesize that water ice could have accumulated within its dark depths that future astronauts could use for fuel and life support.

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Did the Moon’s Water Come from Earth?

Map displaying water content across the lunar surface, which was the focus of this study as researchers examined how the Earth’s magnetic field contributes to water on the Moon. As the data indicates, lunar water is primarily concentrated near the lunar poles. (Credit: Li, et al., 2023)

A recent study published in Nature Astronomy examines how processes within the Earth’s magnetic field could be contributing to the formation of water on the surface of the Moon. This study was led by the University of Hawai’i (UH) and comes during an increased interest in finding water ice across the lunar surface, which has previously been confirmed to exist within the permanently shadowed regions (PSRs) of the lunar north and south poles due to the Moon’s small axial tilt of only 1.5 degrees compared to the Earth’s 23.5 degrees. Additionally, better understanding the lunar surface water content could also help scientists gain better insights into the Moon’s formation and evolution, which is currently hypothesized to have formed from a Mars-sized object colliding with the Earth approximately 4.5 billion years ago, or approximately 100 million years after the Earth formed.

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The Earth’s Magnetosphere Might be Creating Water on the Moon

Artist’s depiction of the Moon in the magnetosphere, with “Earth wind” made up of flowing oxygen ions (gray) and hydrogen ions (bright blue), which can react with the lunar surface to create water. The Moon spends >75% of its orbit in the solar wind (yellow), which is blocked by the magnetosphere the rest of the time. Credit: E. Masongsong, UCLA EPSS, NASA GSFC SVS.

There’s no doubt that the Moon has water on its surface. Orbiters have spotted deposits of ice persisting in the perpetual shadows of polar craters. And recent research shows that water exists in sunlit parts of the Moon, too.

Over the years, scientists have presented evidence that the Moon’s water came from comets, from asteroids, from inside the Moon, and even from the Sun.

But now new research is pointing the finger directly at Earth as the source of some of the Moon’s water.

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This Laser Powered Rover Could Stay in the Shadows on the Moon and Continue to Explore

The ESA's Rover Autonomy Testbed being tested at Tenerife. Image Credit: Fernando Gandía/GMV

The craters on the Moon’s poles are in permanent shadow. But they’re also intriguing locations, due to deposits of water ice and other materials. The ESA is developing the idea for a rover that can explore these areas with power provided by lasers.

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NASA is Testing a Rover That Could Search For Water Ice on The Moon

Credit: NASA Ames/Daniel Rutter

In the coming years, NASA will be sending astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since the last Apollo mission took place in 1972. Back in May, NASA announced that the plan – which is officially known as Project Artemis – was being expedited and would take place in the next five years. In accordance with the new timeline, Artemis will involve sending the first woman and next man to the Moon’s southern polar region by 2024.

To this end, NASA is working on a lunar rover that will search for and map out water deposits in the Moon’s southern polar region. It’s known as the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) and it is scheduled to be delivered to the lunar surface by 2022. This mission will gather data that will help inform future missions to the South Pole-Aitken Basin and the eventual construction of a base there.

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Lunar Outpost Shows off their New Rover that will Crawl the Moon, Searching for Resources

The space technology start-up Lunar Outpost has unveiled their Lunar Prospector rover, which is designed to explore the Moon for resources. Image: Lunar Outpost
The space technology start-up Lunar Outpost has unveiled their Lunar Prospector rover, which is designed to explore the Moon for resources. Image: Lunar Outpost

Space technology company Lunar Outpost has unveiled their new Lunar Prospector rover that will explore the surface of the Moon to search for and map resources. The Lunar Prospector is designed to drill for and analyze sub-surface samples. The first of the smallish robots was recently demonstrated on simulated Lunar regolith at the Colorado School of Mines.
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Rewriting Lunar History

NASA Science News Lunar Image Credt: Sylvain Weiller


We thought we knew everything there was to know about our Moon, but new investigations into its volcanic origins are causing scientists to take another look at how our nearest astronomical neighbor formed – and its age. If you like a little lunacy in your life, then step inside and read more…

A team of scientists led by Carnegie’s Erik Hauri have been busy studying seven tiny Apollo 17 return samples with a a state-of-the-art NanoSIMS 50L ion microprobe. These little pieces of lunar “evidence” are fragments of lunar magma which contain crystals called “melt inclusions”. High in titanium content, these crystals were once a part of volcanic glass beads ejected in explosive volcanic eruptions. The cool part is these melt inclusions coughed up from the lunar depths eons ago yielded a discovery – the magma trapped within crystals show a hundred times more water than once believed.

“In contrast to most volcanic deposits, the melt inclusions are encased in crystals that prevent the escape of water and other volatiles during eruption. These samples provide the best window we have to the amount of water in the interior of the Moon,” said James Van Orman of Case Western Reserve University, a member of the science team. The paper’s authors are Hauri; Thomas Weinreich, Alberto Saal and Malcolm Rutherford from Brown University; and Van Orman.

As meteorite fans well know, water content is everything and the inner Solar System was nearly devoid of it and other volatile elements during early formation. Past lunar studies show an even lower content, supporting the giant impactor theory – a theory which could very well need to be reconsidered. New findings also point to the need for more sample returns from other Solar System bodies as well.

“Water plays a critical role in determining the tectonic behavior of planetary surfaces, the melting point of planetary interiors, and the location and eruptive style of planetary volcanoes,” said Hauri, a geochemist with Carnegie’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM). “We can conceive of no sample type that would be more important to return to Earth than these volcanic glass samples ejected by explosive volcanism, which have been mapped not only on the Moon but throughout the inner Solar System.”

But this isn’t a first for Saal. Three years ago the same team reported the first evidence for the presence of water in lunar volcanic glasses. Using modeling, they were able to theorize how much water was contained within the magma before eruption. From those results, Weinreich, a Brown University undergraduate, found the melt inclusions. This permitted the team to measure the pre-eruption concentration of water in the magma and estimate the amount of water in the Moon’s interior.

“The bottom line,” said Saal, “is that in 2008, we said the primitive water content in the lunar magmas should be similar to the water content in lavas coming from the Earth’s depleted upper mantle. Now, we have proven that is indeed the case.”

Of course, this could mean changing scientific thought on where lunar pole ice deposits originated, too. Current theory suggests they are the product of comets and meteoroid impacts – but perhaps they also could be magma related. It’s a fascinating study which could also help us to understand the properties of other planetary bodies.

But the magma doesn’t stop there…

According to new research from a team that includes Carnegie’s Richard Carlson and former-Carnegie fellow Maud Boyet, magma samples might be revealing a younger Moon, too. Building on the giant impactor theory, samples of a rock type called ferroan anorthosite, or FAN, are being examined. Believed to be the oldest of the Moon’s crustal rocks, FAN could be as old as 4.36 billion years – a figure much younger than previous lunar estimates. Using isotopes of the elements lead and neodymium, the team analyzed the samples for consistent ages from multiple isotope dating techniques.

“The extraordinarily young age of this lunar sample either means that the Moon solidified significantly later than previous estimates, or that we need to change our entire understanding of the Moon’s geochemical history,” Carlson said.

What does all this mean? Thanks to our understanding of the oldest terrestrial minerals, such as zircons from western Australia, we can derive the Moon’s crust may have evolved at the same time as Earth’s… a time which could date back to a giant impact. “The Earth’s Moon is the archetypical example of this type of differentiation.” says the team. “Evidence for a lunar magma ocean is derived largely from the widespread distribution, compositional and mineralogical characteristics, and ancient ages inferred for the ferroan anorthosite (FAN) suite of lunar crustal rocks.”

The next time you observe the Moon, remember… she’s a bit younger than you thought!

Original News Source: Carnegie Science News and Science Daily.