NASA scientists say they have found at least 25 gallons of water after intentionally slamming a probe into a crater on the moon’s southern polar region.
The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission involved two strikes into a permanently shadowed crater near the lunar south pole on 9 October. First, an empty rocket hull slammed into the Cabeus crater. Then, an accompanying spacecraft, Centaur, recorded the drama live before it also crashed into the same spot four minutes later.
The data evidence shows that water was present in both the high-angle vapour plume generated and the ejecta curtain created by the LCROSS/Centaur impact. NASA is now convinced that at least one spot on the moon contains water, in the form of ice and vapour. Study of the probe's findings could shed light on the evolution of the solar system, in the same way as an ice core sample taken from deep beneath the Earth's surface reveals data on ancient geological events.
This discovery also potentially re-opens the question of whether the moon can be considered as a base camp for wider space exploration. Finding water is a huge boost for future human missions as it could be used not only as a source of drinking water but also as fuel. Most scientists believe the likeliest places for water are at the poles of the moon, where there are craters in permanent shadow, like Caebus.
The LCROSS endeavour confirms a previous discovery announced in September by the Indian Chandrayaan-1 mission, which found small amounts of water in the lunar soil.