Thursday, Dec. 09, 2010

Our (Sort of) Watery Moon

The lunar surface is nothing if not predictable. You've got dust, you've got rocks, you've got bigger rocks. One thing you definitely don't have is water — which has always made the idea of homesteading the place a challenge. As it turns out, however, the moon is a lot wetter than we ever knew. NASA's LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) mission made that discovery when it crash-landed a spent rocket booster near the moon's south pole and then directed the LCROSS satellite itself to analyze the plume that was blasted up. It was no news that there was water vapor in the plume — the lunar poles are home to at least traces of permafrost — the surprise was how much: about 50% more than astronomers anticipated, making the moon roughly twice as wet as the Sahara Desert. O.K., that's not exactly beachfront property, but it could be enough to allow future settlers to manufacture their own water supply on-site, which would be easier and cheaper than hauling it from Earth.