The Moon has water in usable amounts in one of its south-polar craters, scientists have announced. The news means that manned Moonbases could potentially be much cheaper to operate than they would otherwise be.
Results from NASA's Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) reveal sizeable amounts of ice crystals in the Moon's permanently shaded craters.
Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist at NASA, said: "NASA has convincingly confirmed the presence of water ice and characterized its patchy distribution in permanently shadowed regions of the moon."
The LCROSS mission saw a used rocket stage crashed into the Cabeus crater at the lunar south pole in order that the resulting plume of long-buried material could be studied by Earthly telescopes and instruments aboard the LRO and a special spaceprobe following the empty rocket down. About 20 per cent of the plume was made up of volatiles including methane, ammonia, hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.
The probe also found light metals like sodium, mercury and possibly silver.
NASA reckons the materials found could offer evidence of a water cycle through which water reacts with the lunar soil. The cycle could take hundreds of thousands of years and could also be happening on other chilly bodies.
The presence of water - which would otherwise need to be brought up from Earth at huge expense - and potential fuel like methane and hydrogen makes future habitation of the Moon much more achievable. It also offers the prospect of lunar rocket-fuel exports to other places, for instance Earth orbit.
NASA's release is here. ®