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Moon's got water, yeah. But it's got other resource goodies, too.

Besides water, frigid craters at the moon's poles hold other resources that astronauts might be able to use to sustain lunar bases. There's even a bit of silver.

By Staff writer / October 21, 2010

This 2009 image shows the area of the lunar South Pole where the LCROSS experiment hurtled a spent Centaur rocket into a dark crater and then measured the resulting plume of dust, debris and vapor for evidence of water.

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Deep, frigid craters at the moon's poles appear to hold a wider variety of flash-frozen resources for future explorers than scientists thought even a year ago – from water to carbon dioxide, methane, mercury, and even small amounts of silver.

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This is the implication scientists are drawing from data gathered from two NASA missions to explore the moon and take the measure of resources that astronauts might be able to use to sustain bases there.

The two missions were launched on the same rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in June 2009. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) arrived at the moon several days after launch and began mapping the lunar surface. It also gathered data on lunar temperatures and composition of the moon's surface. The second landing, four months later, made a bigger impression. LCROSS – the spent upper stage from the rocket that had launched the two craft, plus a package of sensors and instrumets that guided the upper stage and recorded its impact – deliberately collided with the bottom of Cabeus Crater near the moon's south pole.

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The 5,500-mile-an-hour impact created what LCROSS lead scientist Anthony Colaprete calls "a hot, steaming crater," briefly warmed by energy released in the collision and humidified by the vaporized water ice carried up in the debris plume.

Researchers report that the spot LCROSS hit contained amounts of water comparable to some of Earth's driest deserts – each ton of lunar soil at the impact site could produce about 12 gallons of water. But that's still enough to be useful for splitting water into its constituents, oxygen and hydrogen, for rocket fuel, researchers say.

Even more water appears to be locked up below the lunar soil in broad, sunlit regions outside the crater, where it would be far more accessible to explorers.

The missions' results appear in six research papers appearing in Friday's issue of the journal Science. Taken together, the papers reveal a moon hosting "a more complex environment than we expected," says Richard Vondrak, project scientist for the LRO mission. "It has some of the coldest spots in the solar system with a treasure trove" within the surface layer of these areas.

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