The idea that there was ice on the moon tormented astronomers for years, even before NASA's Apollo mission sent astronauts to the lunar surface. When the NASA spacecraft returned Clementine data indicating that there was ice on the surface of the Moon in 1994, the excitement stirred again. The problem was that the recorded measurements were not definitive.
Since then, scientists have teamed up to detect lunar surface ice. Today (20 August), a team of scientists led by researchers from the University of Hawaii found the first direct evidence of frozen water in the lunar poles (paywall). The discovery is based on data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, a NASA device that flew to the moon in 2008. The researchers have analyzed this data today and found tiny ice patches that mix with rocks on the surface of certain craters on the northernmost and northernmost point of the earth, southernmost points on the moon. Previous work had suggested that there could be several combinations of hydrogen and oxygen ̵
"This is very exciting news and provides important impetus for future international landings in the polar regions to drill and return samples of this ice," says Jim Head, a geologist studying and not studying planetary formations at Brown University the study was involved. "When ice is on the surface, it means that much more can be buried in depth, covered or preserved under insulating soil, or diffused into the soil layers and frozen."
The Lunar Minor Mapper collected data on various parts of the Moon's surface reflecting rays of near-infrared light. As different molecules send back different reflections, scientists can pinpoint what types of chemicals are found on a given surface that have been evaluated in this way. The team also used data from other Moon exploratory missions, such as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which in 2009 was a separate NASA mission to confirm their findings. The LRO identified compounds based on the way they reflected ultraviolet light
By combining these separate measurements of specific reflection patterns with different types of light, the team was able to identify the chemical signature of the ice with the dusty, rocky surface of the moon dark, polar Crater
Shuai Li, a geologist at the University of Hawaii who worked on the study, says the data does not tell us where the ice originally came from. However, Li adds, it is likely that it came from comets that hit the Moon years ago. Collisions with other space objects, such as meteorites and comets, gave the moon its pockmarked surface and could easily have brought with it a foreign substance, such as ice. Ice on the lunar surface could also be a series of gases coming from the underlying rock. It could also be due to solar winds – energetically charged ions emanating from the sun and bombarding the surface of the moon to cause the chemical reactions needed to produce frozen water. However, to really understand the origin of the ice, Li hopes to bring a rover to the moon to take actual samples of the cold lunar soil and its ice.
On Earth, the presence of water gave life. On other planets, it suggests the prospect of finding new life or the ability to survive in a place other than our own planet. The detection of water on the surface of the moon, according to Head, could be useful if we ever decided to build lunar bases or further explore space.