Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Along with the COROT exoplanet discoveries yesterday, the other big piece of news was that an analysis of the apatite rocks carried back from the Moon by the Apollo missions showed there to be about 100 times more water than previously thought. The discovery was not based on direct measurements of water within the soil, but rather a new analysis of the apatite based on an improved ability to ascertain how much water (or more specifically, hydroxyl or OH) must be present after cooling. The article does a much better job of explaining the process than I am, and even includes a nice analogy: the cooling process does evaporate much of the water but it's similar to the creation of non-alcoholic beer, in that the alcohol cannot entirely be eliminated and there is always some left over afterwards.
The paper announcing the findings can be read (pdf) here.
On the whole the Moon still remains a relatively dry place, but compared to the Moon of a few years ago we now know that there's a process of water creation that takes place in the top 2 mm of soil (and certainly below as well though we have no details on that), there is 100 times more water deep within the soil than previously thought, and the permanently shadowed craters at the poles have a lot of ice as well. This is yet another reason to colonize the Moon first before Mars, and as I often write the US will probably carry out its planned manned mission to a near-Earth asteroid (which is a good idea), but I really don't see them waiting until the mid-2030s for a simple Mars flyby and return while the rest of the world is focusing on the Moon and having a relatively easy time of it (no launch windows, three-day travel time, virtually no communications delay, easy landing due to lack of atmosphere, etc. etc. etc.).