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NASA Estimates 600 Million Metric Tons of Water Ice At Moon's North Pole 271

Posted by Soulskill
from the no-sign-of-moon-santa dept.
After analyzing data from a radar device aboard last year's Indian Chandrayaan-1 mission to the Moon, NASA scientists have found what they estimate to be 600 million metric tons of water ice in craters around the Moon's north pole. "Numerous craters near the poles of the Moon have interiors that are in permanent sun shadow. These areas are very cold and water ice is stable there essentially indefinitely. Fresh craters show high degrees of surface roughness (high circular polarization ratio) both inside and outside the crater rim, caused by sharp rocks and block fields that are distributed over the entire crater area. However, Mini-SAR has found craters near the north pole that have high CPR inside, but not outside their rims. This relation suggests that the high CPR is not caused by roughness, but by some material that is restricted within the interiors of these craters. We interpret this relation as consistent with water ice present in these craters. The ice must be relatively pure and at least a couple of meters thick to give this signature."
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NASA Estimates 600 Million Metric Tons of Water Ice At Moon's North Pole

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  • Send up some miners (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @11:23AM (#31330198) Homepage Journal

    Having been a Heinlein fan for the last 30 or so years, I have to say this makes me happy inside.

  • Habitable Moon (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TechForensics (944258) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @11:35AM (#31330344) Homepage Journal

    This is great. Now all we need is oxygen and we can live there. Hmmm..... O2 from electrolysis of water, powered by solar?

    Sounds like it might now be vastly easier to establish a self-sustaining moon colony.

  • It's a start (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jimbobborg (128330) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @11:39AM (#31330398)

    Now how much water is in the South Pole?

  • Re:Good! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @11:44AM (#31330458)

    But in all seriousness, if you dropped a 600 million metric ton ice cub into the ocean, what would happen?

    Well, the iceberg that just broke off of Antarctica was about 1000 times as large, if that helps.

    And if it doesn't help, assuming that it would cause about as much effect as tossing a normal ice cube into an Olympic-sized swimming pool wouldn't be too far off. Though the normal ice-cube in the Olympic-sized pool would cool things down a bit more....

  • Re:Habitable Moon (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Yvanhoe (564877) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @11:48AM (#31330532) Journal
    A few months ago, the Japanese probe Kaguya/SELENE gave us a map of the numerous uranium deposits on the moon. This is it. Let's go, WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR ?

    The project Orion [] got shelved because detonating nukes to propel a spacecraft had too much environmental and political problems, but from the Moon none of these problems are relevant. For a reminder, this projects proposes a spacecraft that could weight 100 000 tons, go at 3% of c through a constant 1g acceleration during 10 days. Let's build a godamn shipyard on the moon !
  • Re:Habitable Moon (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @12:00PM (#31330708)

    Tell me again why I'd want to colonize the bottom of a gravity well when sunshine is ubiquitous, water comets are floating about nearby and metallic asteroids are just waiting to be spun, melted with mirrors and mined for metals?

  • by rwa2 (4391) * on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @12:27PM (#31331058) Homepage Journal

    Where would the solar power be coming from, given that the only water that's there is buried in permanent shadow?

    You'd need a heck of a tower, or a pump. Or a huge orbital mirror array to shine light where the sun don't normally shine. But then the ice would melt and there'd be no point to settling those craters again. drats!

    Someone will patent these ideas anyway, and maybe be foolish enough to implement. Same ones with all of these carbon sequestration schemes... they've got it all wrong! If they REALLY want to secure the one-world government, they should sequester all the oxygen and sell it back to all the people who didn't care about environmental regulation :-P

  • Re:It's a start (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rogerborg (306625) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @12:29PM (#31331094) Homepage
    Ah, the old "Let's finish colonising the earth before we try anywhere harder" argument? Logic... logic is the beginning of wisdom.
  • Re:Good! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Waffle Iron (339739) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @12:35PM (#31331158)

    But in all seriousness, if you dropped a 600 million metric ton ice cub into the ocean, what would happen?

    If dropped from the altitude of the moon? Let's see:

    $ units
    You have: 0.5 * 600e6 tons * (11 km/s)^2
    You want: megaton tnt
            * 7870.6515

    I'd guess the result would be catastrophic tsunamis and a few years of disruptive climate effects.

  • Re:fatal flaw: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cduffy (652) <> on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @12:37PM (#31331184)

    But the prisoners are resistant to having all the water extracted from them, so you have an unsustainable, open system.

    Why would you need to extract water from the prisoners? You're getting labor out of them, so they have far more value alive. When they die, certainly, there's much to reuse -- but "returning to the soil" (as water and fertilizer) has a great deal of precedence, so I hardly see why it would be objectionable.

    As for it being an open system, quite true -- the discovery that the readily available water would run out and they'd find themselves starving in less than a decade was a key factor in Heinlein's prisoners' revolt.

    And assuming you get over that hurdle, wouldn't you have to ship up more kg of prisoners than you ship down kg of wheat?

    Pardon? Set up a self-sustaining economy (water and energy being the two ongoing inputs -- the former being a limited natural resource on the moon and the latter being easy to generate) and the prisoners can feed themselves using the food they grow and water they mine, raise families, build more tunnels as-needed for additional living space, and otherwise provide for themselves. There's a bit of handwaving here regarding availability of other plant nutrients -- would need to do research on composition of moon rocks and cost to import any materials which aren't locally available -- but inasmuch as we're limiting our discussion to water, I don't see the feasibility concerns.

  • by khallow (566160) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @02:01PM (#31332584)

    Why would you settle there in the first place, when it's a barren rock? Sure ice makes the moon SLIGHTLY more survivable, but to what end?

    Why doesn't everyone live on a comfortable tropical beach? Because that's not where the opportunities are. If you want a better job or doing something new and challenging, you don't go to the beach, even if it has the best possible climate for day-to-day living.

    It's pretty obvious that there's almost nothing of value to us currently on the Moon (there are a few corner mirrors left over from the 60's that still work, I think that's it). But there's good reason to expect that to change over the decades. Commercial activity has been steadily increasing over the past 45 years. Launch costs have slowly declined over that time as well. We see serious new attempts to enter the launch market (the new Russian commercial efforts, one for every launch vehicle they have, two new companies in the US in the past 25 years, Orbital Sciences Corp and SpaceX, China coming out with the Chang Zheng (Long March) 5, India developing more capable launch vehicles).

    I think we'll continue to grow a presence in space until we get to the point where off-planet support infrastructure makes sense. Physically, the Moon is a much easier place to get materials from. It has a much lower gravity well (for example, lunar escape velocity is almost a fifth that of Earth's), copious solar power, no atmosphere (helps all launch system designs except air breathing vehicles) plentiful oxygen locked in the rock, and good concentrations of the light metals that are currently desired for spacecraft (aluminum, lithium, magnesium, titanium, etc). It also has the sort of volcanic/asteroid activity that lead in the past to enormous platinum group metal deposits on Earth (that is, there appears to be nothing unique to Earth about the way the deposits formed).

    These resources currently have no value to us, because we don't have the stuff in place to take advantage of them. But my view is that this won't always be the case. We can't say that it won't be worth mining gold on the Moon 50 or 100 years from now, merely because the current costs exceed possible gain by a few orders of magnitude. These things change over time and as I've noted, they have been getting better for a while now.

  • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Tuesday March 02, 2010 @05:31PM (#31335998) Homepage Journal

    Obviously, you didn't grow up reading Heinlein and people like him. It's doable. No, of course it isn't doable for people with no imagination, and an unwillingness to change. You can't take your lawn with you, your old oak tree for shade, and grandpa's shed with all the neat crap he saved from the days of Model T's.

    The people who go out there will adapt, or they will die. Plain and simple. On the moon, they'll dig into the crust to get away from the radiation, and they will make homes from concrete and plastic, in those lava flows and other holes they find. They'll grow their plants under plant lights, or they'll find ways to beam sunlight to the plants, underground. Or, they might put the effort into developing photosynthetic plants that will grow during the two weeks of sunlight, then hibernate for two weeks of night.

    The Loonies won't be people that you can easily understand. But then, your great great grandchildren would be a huge surprise if you could meet them no matter WHERE they grow up. Turn that around - would your great great grandparents adapt to today's world quickly and easily if they could be brought back here today? The last of my own great grandparents died about the time that color televisions were becoming popular among the less wealthy classes. It would blow his mind to watch a hi-def movie on my computer!

    The future. Not just stranger than you imagine, but stranger than you CAN imagine.

    Put the people up there. They'll find a way. They'll survive. Nothing capable of supplying water (and incidentally, OXYGEN) is truly barren. It can sustain life, if that life is determined enough to live there.

An elephant is a mouse with an operating system.