Some of the Moon’s Craters are so Dark, it Takes AI to see What’s Inside Them

There is no dark side of the Moon.  But there are dark spots on it – specifically at the bottom of craters that are never reached by any sunlight no matter where the Moon is facing.  These areas have intrigued scientists for decades, in no small part because lack of sunlight means a lower temperature, allowing frozen materials to stay frozen. In other words, there may be water in them thar craters.  And water will be the lifeblood of any future permanent crewed lunar mission.  

Unfortunately, lack of sunlight also means it’s challenging to see what’s at the bottom of those craters.  The closest scientists have come was when LCROSS, a NASA moon mission, fired a projectile into the crater Cabeus and analyzed the resultant dust cloud, which contained a relatively high amount of water.  But so far, no one has been able to image what water is in those craters directly.

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Chefs on the Moon Will be Cooking up Rocks to Make air and Water

NASA has delayed their Artemis mission to the Moon, but that doesn’t mean a return to the Moon isn’t imminent. Space agencies around the world have their sights set on our rocky satellite. No matter who gets there, if they’re planning for a sustained presence on the Moon, they’ll require in-situ resources.

Oxygen and water are at the top of a list of resources that astronauts will need on the Moon. A team of engineers and scientists are figuring out how to cook Moon rocks and get vital oxygen and water from them. They presented their results at the Europlanet Science Congress 2021.

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NASA’s VIPER Rover Will Hunt for Water Near Nobile Crater at Moon’s South Pole

NASA says its VIPER rover will head for the western edge of Nobile Crater near the moon’s south pole in 2023, targeting a region where shadowed craters are cold enough for water ice to exist, but where enough of the sun’s rays reach to keep the solar-powered robot going.

Today’s announcement provides a focus for a mission that’s meant to blaze a trail for Artemis astronauts who are scheduled to land on the lunar surface by as early as 2024, and for a sustainable lunar settlement that could take shape by the end of the decade.

“Once it’s on the surface, it will search for ice and other resources on and below the lunar surface that could one day be used and harvested for long-term human exploration of the moon,” Lori Glaze, director of the planetary science division at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said during a teleconference.

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

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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NASA Announces the Discovery of Water in the Sunlit Parts of the Moon

For decades, astronomers have speculated that there may be water on the Moon. In recent years, this speculation was confirmed one orbiting satellite after another detected water ice around the Moon’s southern polar region. Within this part of the lunar surface, known as the South-Pole Aitken Basin, water ice is able to persist because of the many permanently-shadowed craters that are located there.

But until now, scientists were operating under the assumption that lunar water was only to be found in permanently shadowed craters. But thanks to NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), water has been observed on the sunlit side of the Moon for the first time. This discovery indicates that water may be distributed all across the lunar surface, and not limited to the dark corners.

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Artemis Missions Should Bring Ice Home From the Moon Too

During the Apollo Era, astronauts conducted vital science operations on the Moon, which included bringing samples of lunar rocks back to Earth for study. Thanks to the examination of these rocks, scientists were able to learn a great deal about the formation and evolution of the Moon and even found evidence of lunar water. In the coming years, when NASA sends astronauts back as part of Project Artemis, more samples will be returned.

Recently, NASA put out the call for science white papers to help them design a framework for the kind of science operations the Artemis astronauts will conduct. According to one proposal, the Artemis astronauts should not only bring back samples of lunar regolith or rocks but lunar ice as well. By examining them here on Earth, scientists may finally be able to resolve the mystery of where the Moon’s water came from.

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Lunar Landings Will Make it Harder to Study the Moon’s Ice Deposits

When astronauts return to the Moon in the next few years (as part of Project Artemis) they will be scouting locations and resources around the South Pole-Aitken Basin that will eventually help them to stay there. In this cratered, permanently-shadowed region, water ice has been found in abundance, which could one-day be harvested for drinking water, irrigation, and the creation of oxygen gas and rocket fuels.

A critical aspect to planning for all or this is to consider how future missions may affect the local environment. Based on new research from a team of planetary scientists and engineers, a major risk comes in the form of contamination by lunar landers. In short, exhaust from these vehicles could spread around the Moon and contaminate the very ices the astronauts hope to study.

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Want to Mine Ice on the Moon? Scientists Create a Map for Where to Start

The first lunar maps consisted of simply the best images of the Moon from Earth-based telescopes, which were converted to provide necessary information for the Apollo astronauts.

But whenever the next lunar explorers arrive, they’ll have incredibly detailed topographic maps of the Moon’s surface, thanks to the high-resolution cameras and instruments on board satellites like the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. LRO’s Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA)  zaps the Moon an incredible 140 times every second, measuring the ups and downs, nooks and crannies on the lunar surface to an accuracy within four inches.

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