India discovers water on moon

Found in molecular form on lunar surface

India discovers water on moon

Chandrayaan-1 has found the ‘elixir of life’ on an otherwise barren and craggy land, almost 3,80,000 km from earth.

The moon was considered bone dry for the last 40 years, thanks to the findings of the Apollo and Lunar missions. Chandrayaan-1 literally turned the tables on them by discovering that the moon was a lot wetter than what the scientists believed.

However, water detected on the lunar surface was not in the form of liquid, ice or moisture. Strangely enough, it was in molecular form and only in trace amounts, that too on the uppermost layer.

But it was abundant and found everywhere. Almost a litre of water can be squeezed out of every 1,000 kg of lunar soil, according to the data provided by Chandrayaan-1. The thin sheen of water was found to be trapped a few millimetres under the lunar soil.
The discovery opens up the exciting and vibrant possibilities of using the moon as a base for future human exploration of deep space.

Valuable find
“Yes, it is a source of water on the moon that could be invaluable to human settlement since it presently costs about $25,000 per pound ($50,000 per kg) for taking something from the earth all the way to the moon,” Lawrence A Taylor, director of the Planetary Geosciences Institute at the University of Tennessee, told Deccan Herald.

Taylor is one of the members of an Indo-US team that published the first major findings of the Chandrayaan-1 mission in the journal ‘Science’ on Friday. According to ‘The Guardian’, Chandrayaan’s findings may renew NASA’s interest in stationing a permanent human outpost on the moon.

The moon-mineralogy-mapper (M-cube) on Chandrayaan-1 detected telltale signs of hydroxyl group and water molecules within the top few millimetres of soil and rocks on the lunar surface. M-cube analyses the way solar rays reflect off the lunar surface to discover materials that make up its soil.

Reflectance spectrometry
Light is reflected in different wavelengths off different minerals. Scientists can use those differences — mostly imperceptible to the human eye — to find out what is present in the thin layer of the upper soil. This technique is called reflectance spectrometry.

M-cube detected wavelengths of light reflected from the lunar surface that would indicate a chemical bond between hydrogen and oxygen. Given the well-known chemical symbol, H2O (water), which represents two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom, this points to the presence of water on the moon.

The Chandrayaan-1 observations were independently corroborated by two other space probes — Deep Impact and Cassini.

“Together, these observations may lead to a paradigm shift in our views of the moon and open new vistas for lunar exploration,” said J N Goswami, principal director of the Chandrayaan-1 science team from the Indian side and director of Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad.

The Apollo astronauts brought moon rocks, which were analysed by scientists all over the world. One of the principal questions was whether there was water in moon rocks. The leakage of the boxes containing lunar rocks complicated the matter.

Wrong assumption
This made scientists assume that the trace amounts of water they found must have come from the earth as contaminants.
The assumption remained that, except the possible presence of ice at the poles, there was no water on the moon. However, 40 years later, there is evidence it was wrong.

“To some extent, we were fooled. Since the boxes leaked, we just assumed the water we found was from contamination with terrestrial air,” Taylor said.
DH News Service

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