Water on the moon? A new mission will send two satellites to map the lunar surface
Only recently have scientists found tiny hints of water molecules on the moon, a vital resource for future deep space missions to the moon and beyond. But finding the exact location has been challenging — until now.
Previous missions in the early 2000s found evidence of water ice on the poles of the moon. These poles are permanently shadowed and no sunlight reaches that surface area. The craters in the poles are where scientists think are the most pockets of water.
These areas are so cold that the water is trapped and cannot evaporate, according to NASA.
A new mission called Lunar Trailblazer is set to launch two satellites by 2025 with the goal of mapping the lunar surface and understanding the form and distribution of water on the moon.
“It’s cold enough at the South Pole and at the North Pole to house ice and water,” UCF planetary geologist professor Kerri Donaldson Hanna says. “But we’ve never actually made real detections of it. This will give us our first opportunities to do that.”
Donaldson Hanna is the co-investigator of NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer mission which consists of two science instruments about the size of a desk. They’ll launch to the moon together and orbit the moon and collect data from above the lunar surface.
The first satellite is a lunar thermal mapper which will map the temperatures of the surface of the moon in regions that get very little sunlight. This will tell scientists where the surface of the moon is cold enough to hold water in the form of ice.
The second satellite will be studying the reflected light that is coming off the lunar surface, looking for signatures of water ice and other types of water and what makes them different.
NASA wants to send humans back to the moon and establish a permanent lunar science base. To do that, says Donaldson Hanna, finding water on the moon is vital. If future moon astronauts can use the resources on the lunar surface, they won’t need to bring things like oxygen or rocket fuel with them.
“We need to be able to identify resources that are available to those astronauts for a variety of uses, whether it’s for consumption, for fuel, for building materials. All of those things will help us be able to have humans in space for longer periods of time,” Donaldson Hanna adds.
The satellite’s main mission is to identify water on the lunar surface, but it also has the capability to determine the different rocks and minerals.
“Because we’re also going to be in a lower orbit about the moon, it means we’re going to get better spatial resolution data than we’ve ever had before,” she says.
One question Donaldson Hanna wants to answer is how the initial crust of the moon formed. The current hypothesis is that it was formed through a vast magma ocean where minerals crystallized and floated up to the top of the magma ocean to form the crust.
“Data like what we’ll get back from Trailblazer will help answer it."
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