Archive for Saturday, November 14, 2009

Discovery of water on moon thrills scientists

November 14, 2009

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— Suddenly, the moon looks exciting again. It has lots of water, scientists said Friday — a thrilling discovery that sent a ripple of hope for a future astronaut outpost in a place that has always seemed barren and inhospitable.

Experts have long suspected there was water on the moon. Confirmation came from data churned up by two NASA spacecraft that intentionally slammed into a lunar crater last month.

“Indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn’t find just a little bit. We found a significant amount,” said Anthony Colaprete, lead scientist for the mission, holding up white gallon water buckets for emphasis.

The lunar crash kicked up at least 25 gallons and that’s only what scientists could see from the plumes of the impact, Colaprete said.

Some space policy experts say that makes the moon attractive for exploration again. Having an abundance of water would make it easier to set up a base camp for astronauts.

“Having definitive evidence that there is substantial water is a significant step forward in making the moon an interesting place to go,” said George Washington University space policy scholar John Logsdon.

Even so, members of the blue-ribbon panel reviewing NASA’s future plans said it doesn’t change their conclusion that the program needs more money to get beyond near-Earth orbit. The panel wants NASA to look at other potential destinations like asteroids and Mars.

“This new and terrific result reassures us about lunar resources, but ... the challenges currently facing the human spaceflight program remain,” Chris Chyba, a Princeton astrophysicist who is on the panel, said in an e-mail.

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