Courtesy ISRO, we found water on Moon: NASA

Last Updated: Friday, September 25, 2009 - 18:08

Zeenews Bureau

Washington/Bangalore: NASA on Thursday thanked ISRO for enabling the discovery of water on Moon through Chandrayaan-I, a finding that could trigger a serious hunt for life in outer space.

“We want to thank ISRO for making the discovery possible. Moon till now was thought to be a very dry surface with lot of rocks,” NASA director Jim Green said in a press conference beamed live across the world, here in Washington.

In a major leap for India’s space programme, the Moon
mapper on-board the Indian space probe made the unexpected
discovery that water may still be forming on the moon surface
overturning the long accepted view that lunar soil is dry.

Green said NASA`s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument atop Chandrayaan measured the light reflecting on Moon’s surface, that points at the presence of water molecules beneath. He added that the data sent from Chandrayaan, which lost all contact with Earth on August 30, was still being assessed and more discoveries could follow.

"Water ice on the Moon has been something of a holy grail for lunar scientists for a very long time," Green said, adding, "This surprising finding has come about through the ingenuity, perseverance and international cooperation between NASA and the India Space Research Organization."

ISRO shares in the credit, he said.

Carle Pieters, Principal Investigator of M3 said ISRO had played a very crucial role in the discovery of water on Moon and that it was a great leap in the knowledge of mankind about space.

"If it weren`t for them, we wouldn`t have been able to
make this discovery," Pieters said crediting ISRO for its role
in the findings.

There are strong chemical signatures of water on the moon
in its high latitudes, said Pieters.

ISRO scientists J N Goswami and Mylswamy Annadurai, who
made key contributions to the study, were ecstatic about the
findings which could unleash another round of Moon missions.

"Our baby has done its job," Annadurai, Project Director
for Chandrayaan-I, told news agencies by hone from Bangalore.

Pieters published her findings in the latest issue of
`Science` where she said that M3 results show presence of
small amounts of water on the uppermost surface of the Moon.

While the magnitude was not precisely known, scientists
believe that a tonne of lunar soil could fetch about a litre
of water.

ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair said in Bangalore the
discovery was "path-breaking" saying no lunar odyssey so far
had given a "positive" conclusion.

"There is confirmation of traces of water. It is a
path-breaking event as far as Chandrayaan-1 mission is
concerned. It is very very significant. So far, no mission has
confirmed the presence of water positively," Nair told news agencies.

M3 was one of the 11 instruments onboard Chandrayaan-I
which was launched on October 22 last year. The mission had to
be ended abruptly after the spacecraft lost contact with the
ground station.

Until now, scientists had advanced the theory that there
might be ice at the permanently dark bottom of craters at the
Moon`s poles but that the rest of the Moon was totally dry.
Now, the finding ends four-decade long speculation on whether
there is water on moon.

Scientists said the discovery could refocus interest in
the Moon since the appeal of the moon waned after astronauts
visited 40 years ago and called it `"magnificent desolation."

Scientists first claimed that water existed on Moon about
40 years ago after they analysed rock samples brought to earth
as souvenirs by Apollo astronauts.

But they had doubts about the findings as the boxes in
which the moon rocks were brought to Earth had leaked
contaminating the samples with air from the atmosphere.

Scientists believe that the water could have been formed
due to interaction of oxygen present in rocks and soil on moon
with hydrogen in the form of protons emitted by the sun as a
result of nuclear fusion.

Pieters` team found water molecules and hydroxyl at
diverse areas of the sunlit region of the moon`s surface, but
the water signature appeared stronger at higher latitudes.

The M3 discovery was confirmed by data from two NASA
spacecraft -- the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer on
the Cassini spacecraft and the High-Resolution Infrared
Imaging Spectrometer on the EPOXI spacecraft. Data from those
missions also are being published in separate papers in
Science.

Data received from NASA`s M3 was supplemented by
observations of the ISRO payloads Hyper-Spectral Imager (HySI)
and Moon Impact Probe (MIP).

The data analysis was done by scientists of Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in the US and Physical Research
Laboratory, and Space Application Centre, both headquartered
in Ahmedabad, Nair said.

For Peter Isaacson, a student researcher on the project,
the results came as a huge surprise.

"There was no evidence that this was possible on such a
broad scale. This discovery turns a lot of the conventional
thinking about the lunar surface on its head," he said.

Amitabha Ghosh, a NASA scientist involved in studying
Mars, said, "It is a very significant finding if we ever are
to venture out to set up a base anywhere in the solar system,
moon is the nearest destination."

"We just hope that the water is plenty enough and easily
extractable so that you can have purification process for
human use. This is potentially a very big discovery for this
country," Ghosh said.

Former ISRO Chairman and member Planning Commission K
Kasturirangan said the discovery was very significant.

"Water is very important, ultimately in the long run if
humankind has to go and habituate the Moon, one of the
important requirements is that you should have adequate water
for survival," Kasturirangan, under whose leadership the
Chandrayaan mission was conceived in 2003.



First Published: Friday, September 25, 2009 - 18:08

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