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Moon, Mercury May Have Far More Water Ice Than Previously Thought

The Chandrayaan-1 mission found evidence of water on the Moon

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Full Moon, Anniversary, NASA
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.

Mercury
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)

Next Story

India’s Chandrayaan-2 on Course to Moon

The Indian space agency said the major activities include Earth-bound manoeuvres, the trans-lunar insertion, lunar-bound manoeuvres, Vikram’s separation from Chandrayaan-2 and touch down on the Moon’s South Pole

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India, Spacecraft, Moon
A spectator holds an Indian flag after a mission of Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan-2, with the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle on board was called back because of a technical snag in Sriharikota, India, July 15, 2019. VOA

The Indian space agency on Tuesday completed successfully the crucial orbit manoeuvre and put the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft into the lunar orbit.

According to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI) was completed successfully at 9.02 a.m. as planned using the onboard propulsion system. All the systems of Chandrayaan-2 are healthy.

“The duration of manoeuvre was 1,738 seconds. With this, Chandrayaan-2 was successfully inserted into a lunar orbit. The orbit achieved is 114km X 18,072km,” the ISRO said.

Following this, a series of orbit manoeuvres will be performed on Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft to enable it to enter its final orbit passing over the lunar poles at a distance of about 100 km from the Moon’s surface.

Subsequently, the lander — Vikram — will separate from the Orbiter and enter into a 100km X 30km orbit around the Moon.

“Then, it will perform a series of complex braking manoeuvres to soft land in the South Polar region of the Moon on September 7, 2019,” ISRO said.

NASA
Earth’s view from moon’s surface. Pixabay

The health of the spacecraft is being continuously monitored from the Mission Operations Complex (MOX) at ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) in Bengaluru with support from Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) antennas at Bylalu, near the Karnataka capital.

The next Lunar bound orbit manoeuvre is scheduled on Wednesday between 12.30-1.30 p.m.

On July 22, the Chandrayaan-2 was injected into an elliptical orbit of 170X45,475 km by India’s heavy lift rocket Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III (GSLV Mk III) in a text book style.

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The spacecraft comprises three segments – the Orbiter (weighing 2,379 kg, eight payloads), the lander ‘Vikram’ (1,471 kg, four payloads) and rover ‘Pragyan’ (27 kg, two payloads).

The Indian space agency said the major activities include Earth-bound manoeuvres, the trans-lunar insertion, lunar-bound manoeuvres, Vikram’s separation from Chandrayaan-2 and touch down on the Moon’s South Pole. (IANS)