Monday, December 29, 2008

Ice 'most likely' source of H signature in Lunar Prospector data, study shows

A new study appearing in Icarus authored by Researchers from Glasgow and Durham universities, lead by Dr Luis Teodoro of Glasgow University's physics and astronomy department, claims new techniques applied to data collected from Lunar Prospector ten years ago "most likely" points to the presence of water ice at the Moon's poles. It would not be the first time new and exciting conclusions have been made from the decade-old mission that ended with a deliberate impact in a permanently shadowed crater near the lunar south pole.

Nevertheless, detection of fast neutrons indicating the presence of broad fields of Hydrogen when applied to maps show both Clementine (1994) and later Lunar Prospector show Hydrogen throughout the polar regions, nearly twice as abundant in the north than the south, most of it well outside permanent and semi-permanently shadowed abyssal craters and valleys in the vicinity of the lunar poles. The signature of Hydrogen, a volatile that would rapidly dissipate in the presence of very little energy, is associated with the poles, however.

While the new study points to water ice, scientists are sufficiently excited by the presence of Hydrogen alone, which can be combined with Oxygen already known to be locked into certain kinds of lunar rock, to create water, and in a manner that releases energy. Hydrogen makes an excellent motor fuel, for example, yielding three and a half times more efficiency than refined hydrocarbons like gasoline. Whether the Hydrogen is locked into, so-called "super water ice" it will not be easy to refine, as this latest study seems to show three grams per kilo of long-shadowed regolith, within a meter of the surface.

The source of the Hydrogen may be cometary or from the fast migratory refinement following impacts of Galactic Cosmic Rays throughout the Moon, some of which came to rest in permanently shadowed "cold spots" in the lunar north and south.

The BBC has an update of the original story HERE.

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