Friday, March 14, 2008

A Whiff of Water From the Moon

Former U.S. Senator Harrison Schmitt (R-NM), still the only professional scientist to visit the Moon. Ian Fleming never explicitly told us what a "Moonraker" was. Of course we all know now that it's Jack Schmitt.

Kelly Beaty

I looked up "dry" in the dictionary, and a picture of the Moon wasn't next to it. But there should have been one.

You know the old saying "Never say never"? Today, at a meeting of lunar and planetary specialists, Alberto Saal (Brown University) announced that he and his research team have found trace amounts of water in an unusual sample returned by Apollo 15 astronauts. They analyzed little beads of a rare volcanic glass that erupted onto the lunar surface from a fire fountain billions of years ago.

These peculiar green-glass particles have been studied many times before, but researchers didn't find any water in them because no one's had an instrument sensitive enough to detect it until recently. Saal reports that the glass beads contain water at up to 30 parts per million. That's still just 0.003%. He thinks there might have been at least 10 times more water in the lava before it erupted, but that's more speculative.

So does this mean future astronauts can simply squeeze some rocks when they get thirsty? No, but Saal argues that models of the Moon's chemical and thermal evolution should now take the presence of water into account. You can read the technical description of his experiment here.

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