Water ahoy!

The discovery of water on the moon by India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission is a historic turning point in our understanding of the nature of the earth’s satellite and efforts to reach out of the confines of the earth. The shadow over the performance of the Indian moon mission after its premature termination last month has lifted with the success of the moon mineralogy mapper, a NASA probe aboard the Indian spacecraft, in finding evidence of not insignificant quantities of water in the lunar soil. Indian scientists and engineers can take pride in the breakthrough, which has been internationally acknowledged. It also demonstrates the value of international collaboration in space exploration, as a lot of data collected by Chandrayaan were with the help of instruments which were designed in other countries.

Only a molecular presence of water has been detected but it is sufficient to revive interest in the moon, which had flagged after doubts developed about the composition of the lunar matter and the conditions there, and the returns from the expensive projects to explore it. It opens up the possibility of setting up base camps on the moon to carry out more detailed studies of its structure and processes, and to undertake projects to explore farther regions and objects in space. An intermediate work station on the moon will reduce the costs of such endeavours. The US, Russia and China have plans to set up human habitats on the moon in the coming decades. India too will have to start making similar plans.  Colonisation of the moon may not now seem to be an impossibility as it once appeared. The water on the moon is supposed to have been the result of comet and meteorite activity or the impact of solar winds and it is fairly spread over the polar end of the surface. There are also indications of the process of formation of water continuing even now. All this points  to exciting times ahead in lunar research and space studies.

Water is the basis of life and has formed the wellsprings of civilisations. Human history has flowed with its course on earth. The confirmation of its existence outside the earth might also point to the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. That is still the stuff of speculation and science fiction. But in the immediate

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