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The moon is seen during a lunar eclipse known as the "Super Blood Wolf Moon," in Manaus, Brazil, Jan. 21, 2019. VOA

Earth’s Moon and Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, may have far more water ice than previously thought, new evidence suggests.

“If confirmed, this potential reservoir of frozen water on the Moon may be sufficiently massive to sustain long-term lunar exploration,” said Noah Petro, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.


The potential ice deposits are found in craters near the poles of both Moon and Mercury, said the study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“We found shallow craters tend to be located in areas where surface ice was previously detected near the south pole of the Moon, and inferred this shallowing is most likely due to the presence of buried thick ice deposits,” said lead author Lior Rubanenko of the University of California, Los Angeles.

In the past, telescopic observations and orbiting spacecraft have found glacier-like ice deposits on Mercury, but as of yet not on the Moon.

The new work raises the possibility that thick ice-rich deposits also exist on the Moon.

The research may not only help resolve the question regarding the Moon’s apparent low ice abundance relative to Mercury, but it could also have practical applications.


We know so little about the planet Mercury.

The poles of Mercury and the Moon are among the coldest places in our solar system. Unlike Earth, the spin axes of Mercury and the Moon are oriented such that, in their polar regions, the Sun never rises high above the horizon.

Consequently, polar topographic depressions, such as impact craters, never see the Sun. For decades it has been postulated these so-called permanently shadowed regions are so cold that any ice trapped within them can potentially survive for billions of years.

Previous observations of the poles of Mercury with Earth-based radar revealed a signature characteristic of thick, pure ice deposits. Later, NASA’s MESSENGER – the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging spacecraft – imaged these ice deposits.

Previous radar and imaging studies of the Moon, whose polar thermal environments are very similar to those of Mercury, found only patchy, shallow ice deposits.

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The study used elevation data obtained by MESSENGER and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to measure approximately 15,000 simple craters with diameters ranging from 2.5 km to 15 km on Mercury and the Moon.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on July 22 launched the Chandrayaan-2 Moon mission in order to explore the topography of the Moon and its composition and will search for water besides conducting in-situ studies.

The Chandrayaan-1 mission found evidence of water on the Moon. (IANS)


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Milky Way galaxy as seen from Chitkul Valley

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has for the first time spotted signs of a planet transiting a star outside of the Milky Way galaxy, opening up a new avenue to search for exoplanets at greater distances than ever before.

The possible exoplanet -- or planets outside of our Solar System -- candidate is located in the spiral galaxy Messier 51 (M51), also called the Whirlpool Galaxy because of its distinctive profile, NASA said in a statement.

Astronomers have, so far, found all other known exoplanets and exoplanet candidates in the Milky Way galaxy, almost all of them less than about 3,000 light-years from Earth.

An exoplanet in M51 would be about 28 million light-years away, meaning it would be thousands of times farther away than those in the Milky Way, NASA said.

"We are trying to open up a whole new arena for finding other worlds by searching for planet candidates at X-ray wavelengths, a strategy that makes it possible to discover them in other galaxies," said Rosanne Di Stefano of the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard and Smithsonian (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led the study.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The exoplanet candidate was spotted in a binary system called M51-ULS-1, located in M51. This binary system contains a black hole or neutron star orbiting a companion star with a mass about 20 times that of the Sun. The X-ray transit they found using Chandra data lasted about three hours, during which the X-ray emission decreased to zero.

Based on this and other information, the team estimates the exoplanet candidate in M51-ULS-1 would be roughly the size of Saturn and orbit the neutron star or black hole at about twice the distance of Saturn from the Sun.

The team looked for X-ray transits in three galaxies beyond the Milky Way galaxy, using both Chandra and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton. Their search covered 55 systems in M51, 64 systems in Messier 101 (the "Pinwheel" galaxy), and 119 systems in Messier 104 (the "Sombrero" galaxy).

However, more data would be needed to verify the interpretation as an extragalactic exoplanet. One challenge is that the planet candidate's large orbit means it would not cross in front of its binary partner again for about 70 years, thwarting any attempts for a confirming observation for decades, NASA said.

Named in honor of the late Indian-American Nobel laureate, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, the Chandra X-ray Observatory is the world's most powerful X-ray telescope. It has eight times greater resolution and is able to detect sources more than 20-times fainter than any previous X-ray telescope.

Known to the world as Chandra (which means "moon" or "luminous" in Sanskrit), Chandrasekhar was widely regarded as one of the foremost astrophysicists of the twentieth century. (IANS/JB)


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