Maui Time

See you on the ice side of the moon

It’s been a tough week on Earth, so here’s something to entertain your cosmic imagination: On Aug. 20, a team of scientists led by researchers from the UH Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology published its finding of “direct evidence” of surface “water ice” on the Moon’s polar regions. Scientists have long hypothesized the existence of ice on the moon, citing indirect, potential evidence with limited confidence.

But now, following the discovery of lead author Shuai Li, a postdoctoral researcher at the Hawai‘i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology at SOEST, and his team, the presence of water ice on the moon is being hailed with “definitive evidence” by NASA and other space agencies.

“We found that the distribution of ice on the lunar surface is very patchy, which is very different from other planetary bodies such as Mercury and Ceres where the ice is relatively pure and abundant,” said Shuai Li. “The spectral features of our detected ice suggest that they were formed by slow condensation from a vapor phase either due to impact or water migration from space,” he added, indicating clues as to the water’s origin.

The team used data from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3), an instrument which has been aboard the Chandrayaan-1, an Indian spacecraft, since 2008. M3 was designed to confirm the presence of water ice on the moon by measuring reflected light that could then be analyzed for unique spectrum signatures that indicate the composition of the Moon’s surface.

“I did not have any hope to see ice features when I started this project,” Li said. “I was astounded when I looked closer and found such meaningful spectral features in the measurements.”

Paul Lucey, co-author of the study and professor at UH Manoa, stated that the data “suggest that the delivery, formation, and retention processes of water ice on the Moon are very unique.”

It could also be a clue to a greater mystery. Li stated, “Given that the Moon is our nearest planetary neighbor, understanding the processes which led to water ice on the Moon provides clues to understand the origin of water on Earth and throughout the solar system.”

Yeah, exploring billion-year-old mysteries is cool, but here’s the really exciting part of Li’s statement: “This work provides a roadmap for future exploration of the Moon, particularly the potential of water ice as a resource.”

Yup. Space colonies. Moon exploration has previously been limited by resources (like water) that astronauts need to survive. The presence of water on the Moon could allow us to explore the Moon for longer periods, make previously impossible missions possible, and serve as a base for a jump into deeper space. I just want to kick it in low gravity with a whiskey on Moon rocks before I die (or human civilization implodes). That’s not too much to ask, right?

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Clyde Darra

Discussion 8/30/2018:

This week we talked about the discovery of “direct evidence” of surface water-ice on the moon.

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