Data From ISRO’s Chandrayaan-I Confirms Ice Presence on Moon, Says NASA

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Scientists have confirmed the presence of frozen water deposits in the darkest and coldest parts of the Moon’s polar regions using data from the Chandrayaan-I spacecraft, that was launched by India 10 years ago, NASA said today.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has a vision for renewed and “sustainable” human exploration of the moon and said, “We know that there’s hundreds of billions of tons of water ice on the surface of the moon.”

M3 (NASA’s moon mineralogy mapper) aboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft… was uniquely equipped to confirm the presence of solid ice on the Moon. It collected data that not only picked up the reflective properties we’d expect from ice, but was able to directly measure the distinctive way its molecules absorb infrared light, so it can differentiate between liquid water or vapour and solid ice. The data from ISRO’s hyperspectral imager, an instrument used for mapping minerals, also aboard Chandrayaan-1, supplemented the evidence.

The discovery holds tantalizing implications for efforts to return humans to the moon for the first time in half a century. The presence of water offers a potentially valuable resource not only for drinking but for producing more rocket fuel and oxygen to breathe. In September 2009, data from the same M3 instrument was used to announce “unambiguous evidence” of the presence of water across the lunar surface.

In August 2013, a team of US scientists looked at the same M3 data and detected magmatic water, “or water that originates within the Moon’s interior”, on the lunar surface. In 2017, another team used M3 data and produced the first map of water distribution on the lunar surface, showing it was spread across the Moon and not just in polar regions. In February this year, NASA reported a new analysis of data from two lunar missions that presented fresh evidence of water being “widely distributed” across the surface.

The latest finding, that of solid ice, takes these discoveries forward. Most of the newfound water ice lies in the shadows of craters near the poles, where the warmest temperatures never reach above -250°F (-150°C). Because of the very small tilt of the Moon’s rotation axis, sunlight never reaches these regions. The study findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.