Water ice on moon boosts prospects for settlement

Water ice on moon
The image shows the distribution of surface ice at the Moon’s south pole (left) and north pole (right), detected by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument. Blue represents the ice locations, plotted over an image of the lunar surface, where the grayscale corresponds to surface temperature. Darker shades represent colder areas, while lighter shades indicate warmer zones. (NASA Graphic)

Newly published research lays out a map that traces water ice deposits at the poles of the moon — and points to prime territory for future lunar settlements.

The findings, detailed in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are based on data from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper, or M3, which was placed aboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter for its 2008-2009 mission.

The M3 team, led by the University of Hawaii’s Shuai Li, reports that most of the ice at the south pole lies in permanently shadowed craters near the poles, where the warmest temperatures are never higher than 250 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. In some areas, frozen water appeared to account for about 30 percent of the soil content.

Ice in the moon’s north polar region is more widely spread, but at sparser concentrations.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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