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.
(Page 2 of 2)
Far from being the moon's dusty attic, a picture some researchers had painted of Cabeus prior to the LCROSS collision, the crater appears to be the storage freezer in the basement, team members say. Indeed, even during the lunar summer, temperatures at the bottom of Cabeus are among the coldest in the solar system -- falling lower than those at Pluto's poles or rivaling those on distant comets.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures We love the moon
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Given the amounts and variety of compounds found in the crater, it's clear that material is accumulating there faster than natural processes can get rid of it, notes Peter Schultz, a planetary scientist at Brown University in Providence, R.I., and a LCROSS team member.
Where the compounds come from and how they find their way into the "freezer" remain somewhat mysterious, although scientists have some ideas about the processes that might be involved.
Based on the crater LCROSS left, as well as evidence gathered while material was still rising from the collision point, "the surface is very fluffy," Dr. Schultz says. "I think that's because these things are added atom by atom over billions of years,"
Meteroids, comet debris, and cosmic dust rain down on the moon constantly. On average, 25 objects punch craters at least 60 feet wide into the lunar surface each year, he explains. These collisions can release atoms and molecules from material in the incoming object – including water – to circulate around the moon.
In addition, water can form as hydrogen ions from the sun smack the moon's surface and react with oxygen bound up in minerals there.
Crater-bottom deposits may also trace their origins to volcanic activity on a younger moon, or from gases that still appear to vent from deep fissures in the lunar surface. Interstellar clouds of gas between stars also may contribute material as the solar system sweeps through them on its way around the spinning Milky Way.
Whatever their source, atoms and molecules from around the lunar surface repeatedly rise and fall during the long lunar day, energized by the sun's warmth, researchers say. After bounding around the moon's sunlight half, they come to rest on the surface during the lunar night. Over time, they randomly encounter a polar crater, with temperatures so cold the atoms and molecules flash freeze to the soil there when they fall in.
It will take additional strike-the-moon missions to analyze the debris in ways that will help distinguish among the various sources for the compounds found in the moon's polar cold traps, Schultz says.