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Chandrayaan detects water on moon

Last updated on: September 24, 2009 

Image: Moon, the next source of water
Photographs: NASA

India's maiden moon mission Chandrayaan-I has detected evidence of water across the lunar surface, scientists announced on Thursday.

Moon Mineralogy Mapper, a NASA instrument onboard Chandrayaan-I, detected wavelengths of reflected light that would indicate a chemical bond between hydrogen and oxygen in materials on the thin layer of upper soil.

The Moon Mineralogy Mapper or M3 has confirmed existence of water on moon by analysing the data collected from Chandrayaan-I.


Chandrayaan detects water on moon

Image: The image strip on the left is a color composite of data from 28 separate wavelengths of light reflected from the moon. The blue to red tones reveal changes in rock and mineral composition, and the green color is an indication of the abundance of iron-bearing minerals such as pyroxene. The image strip on the right is from a single wavelength of light that contains thermal emission, providing a new level of detail on the form and structure of the region's surface.
Photographs: NASA/JPL/Brown

The finding ends four-decade long speculation on whether there is water on moon.

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.


Chandrayaan detects water on moon

Image: An image of the moon's surface, taken from the lunar orbit by Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft's Terrain Mapping Camera, shows many large and numerous small craters. The bright terrain on the lower left is the rim of the 117-km wide Moretus crater.
Photographs: ISRO

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.

As these protons hit the moon, they break apart oxygen bonds in soil materials, and where free oxygen and hydrogen are together, there's a high chance that trace amounts of water will be formed, said Larry Taylor from the University of Tennessee, who was among the M3 team of scientists.

The M3 instrument analyzed how sunlight reflected off the lunar surface to identify water particles in which scientists observed elements of chemical bonding alike water.

Chandrayaan detects water on moon

Image: An Image of the Leibniz crater taken by Chandrayaan-1

However, the instrument can only see the very uppermost layers of the lunar soil -- perhaps to a few centimeters below the surface.

They studied the light that is reflected in different wavelengths of different minerals, and used those differences to know what is present in the thin layer of upper soil

According to the scientists, it was water, previously theorised but not proven to exist only in permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles.

Chandrayaan detects water on moon

Image: These frames were captured by the Terrain Mapping Camera on board the 514-kg spacecraft orbiting 200 km above the lunar surface.
Photographs: ISRO

Taylor and other M3 team members believe their findings will be of particular significance as mankind continues to plan for a return to the moon.

The lunar maps created by M3 could provide mission planners with prime locations for extraction of water from the lunar soil.

The findings will be published in this week's online edition of Science Express journal.