Bright Areas On Moon Are Actually Ice, NASA Says

Posted: Jun 8 2017, 7:22am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Bright Areas on Moon are Actually Ice, NASA Says
Credit: NASA

NASA's LRO solves the mystery of bright spots on moon's surface

NASA has found new evidence of possible ice in craters near the moon’s south pole.

Using data from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter or LRO, researchers have combined the temperature of the moon with the light reflected off its surface and discovered a surprising connection between the two.

“We found coldest places near the moon’s south pole are also the brightest places – brighter than we would expect from soil alone – and that might indicate the presence of surface frost.” Lead study author Elizabeth Fisher said. She carried out the data analysis while doing research at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

Some craters on Moon look shiny and tend to reflect light when laser pulses sent from the spacecraft touch them. Temperature readings suggest that these are also the coldest areas on the moon. They are cold enough to contain ice on their surface. These ice deposits appear to be patchy and thin and it is a possibility that they are mixed in with surface soil, dust and rocks. Areas that are both very cold and bright inevitably reflect the presence of water on moon’s surface in the form of stable condition, frost.

The idea that moon harbors water ice has been presented more than half a century ago. But confirming this hypothesis turned out to be more complicated and challenging than supposed. Researchers suggested that lunar cold traps can store water ice. Cold traps are permanently dark areas on the moon that do not receive direct sunlight. Therefore, their temperature remains below minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit and water ice can persist for millions or billions of years under these conditions.

In the late 1990s, NASA’s Lunar Prospector orbiter also identified hydrogen-rich areas at both lunar poles, which scientists theorized to be in the form of water ice. However, LRO's powerful payload was considered ideal for addressing the issue of lunar ice. Launched in 2009, LRO has been taking measurements from lunar surface with the help of different instruments. Its findings back up observations made by Lunar Prospector orbiter.

The new results are also consistent with another team’s analysis of LRO data, reported in 2015.

“These findings demonstrate once again the value of studying the moon from orbit long-term,” said John Keller, NASA’s LRO project scientist. “All of this work begins with comprehensive data sets made up of years’ worth of continuous measurements.”

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