Moonriver

moonWell, I’ve been somewhat neglectful of lots of space and astronomy type noticing (here on the blog) in the last couple of months or more, but it is not unusual for me to re-balance my foci a bit as my interests and available time permits. However, I’ve been meaning to point to the quite astonishing results that are being discussed in recent days… The confirmation of what appears to be a remarkable amount of water on the moon. It is an indirect set of measurements, using spectroscopy, (using results from three separate spacecraft) and is quite an interesting story. Happily, Phil over at Bad Astronomy has just put up a rather splendid summary of the story and I’m simply going to recommend that you pop over there and have a read. (There’s also a Space.com story by Andrea Thompson that is nice too.) Very interesting in the whole thing is the discussion of how the water got there, and why it is rather more mobile than you might expect (clue: the sun might be involved).

From a story by Ian Sample in the Guardian (which also discusses and speculates about aspects of the meaning of all this for future plans to do things on the moon), the key piece of science here is:

The latest discovery came when scientists analysed sunlight glancing off the moon’s surface with detectors aboard the Chandrayaan-1 probe, India’s first mission to observe the moon. The reflected light was found to be missing infrared wavelengths that are absorbed by water molecules.

The results were backed up by further observations from spectrometers aboard Nasa’s Deep Impact and Cassini probes. The research will be published in the US journal Science tomorrow.

This is of course why I used the title “Moonriver” for the post. Don’t be misled by it, by the way, there are not hitherto undiscovered rivers of water on the moon, but given how much water is apparently there by percentage (small by earth standards, but….), as compared to the supposed dryness that had been inferred based upon the moonrock samples brought back decades ago (oh no, is this going to be new ammo for the moon landing deniers?!), it is a rather shocking amount… sort of like finding a large (possibly useful in the future) supply that you’d missed before.

Anyway, I’ll stop babbling now and let you run over to Phil’s site for the detailed breakdown of how the science works.

-cvj

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