Monday, November 16, 2009

The waters of geek

So what's that a picture of, you say?

Well, the circled area in the enlarged area shows a plume of ejecta thrown up as the result of an impact. The picture was taken about 20 seconds after impact.

Why is it of any interest, you ask?

The plume has got water in it.

Yeah, and...?

It's on the Moon.

There is water on the moon. Quite possibly, a fair amount of it. Okay, water vapor and ice, but still water. H2O. The wet stuff. That had been suspected for a time, particularly in the cases of some craters with permanently shadowed areas, but now there is no room for reasonable doubt.

Last month, NASA sent a Centaur rocket stage weighing (on Earth) nearly 5,000 pounds (a mass of 2,200 kg) smashing into the Moon's Cabeus Crater. It threw up a cloud of debris about a mile (1.6 km) into the air - not as big as had been hoped, but more than big enough to do the job of enabling other instruments to analyze the cloud.

And what they found was
copious quantities of water-ice and water vapour.

One researcher described this as the equivalent of "a dozen two-gallon buckets" of water.

"We didn't just find a little bit; we found a significant amount," said Anthony Colaprete, chief scientist for the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission.
Two different instruments - a near-infrared spectrometer and an ultraviolet-visible spectrometer - analyzed the ejecta and both found clear evidence of water.

Colaprete, who described researchers as "ecstatic," said that the data gathered was so rich that it will be some time before the results are fully understood.
"Along with the water in Cabeus, there are hints of other intriguing substances[, he said]. The permanently shadowed regions of the Moon are truly cold traps, collecting and preserving material over billions of years."
And you know, that's the thing I like about science: There is always, always, something more to learn, something more to discover. It doesn't get any better than that.

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