Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Moon NASA Science

NASA Strikes Gold and Water On the Moon 421

Posted by timothy
from the moon-is-a-moist-mistress dept.
tcd004 writes "The PBS NewsHour reports: there is water on the moon — along with a long list of other compounds, including mercury, gold and silver. That's according to a more detailed analysis of the cold lunar soil near the moon's South Pole. The results were released as six papers by a large team of scientists in the journal, Science Thursday. [Note: Nature's papers are behind a paywall; for a few more details, reader coondoggie points out a a story at Network World.] The data comes from the October 2009 mission, when NASA slammed a booster rocket traveling nearly 6,000 miles per hour into the moon and blasted out a hole. Trailing close behind it was a second spacecraft, rigged with a spectrometer to study the lunar plume released by the blast. The mission is called LCROSS, for Lunar Crater Observer and Sensing Satellite."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

NASA Strikes Gold and Water On the Moon

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 21, 2010 @07:38PM (#33981314)

    Twas a Miner 2049'er, and his daughter, Clementine!

    She tripped and fell out an airlock.

    • by iluvcapra (782887)

      If gold ever becomes so expensive that mining it from the moon becomes economical, I might take that as a gold sell signal :)

  • Miners trapped in mine collapse on the moon...

    And I thought the miners in South America had it rough waiting for rescue.

  • elements (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bradmont (513167)

    Last I checked, none of mercury, gold or silver was a compound...

    • Re:elements (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gumbi west (610122) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @07:46PM (#33981396) Journal

      Not when they are reduced, but they could be part of compounds. (i.e gold nitrate)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Well, gold and silver most often occurs in ores; the ores would be a compound, right?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I can't believe no one has comprehensively replied to this story yet. This is a huge deal -- a HUGE deal, and no one can deny that. Common knowledge has been, "well there's nothing on the moon, but perhaps on Mars or [celestial body]" and now we are hearing conclusively that both water and gold are present. This could be monumental, only time will tell.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by FooAtWFU (699187)

        I would also like to point out that we also have water and gold on Earth, and a lot easier and cheaper to get to, using any technologies available now or likely to be available in the intermediate future. You're not getting gold off the moon unless you have heavy industry on the Moon, and putting that sort of investment there would be a monumentally stupefying waste when there are trillions of other things we can invest in down here on the surface and get much better returns much sooner.

        So, nice to think

        • Re:elements (Score:5, Insightful)

          by CAIMLAS (41445) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @09:29PM (#33982038) Homepage

          You're not getting gold off the moon unless you have heavy industry on the Moon, and putting that sort of investment there would be a monumentally stupefying waste when there are trillions of other things we can invest in down here on the surface and get much better returns much sooner.

          True - but long-term, it's quite fascinating. It means there are at least some of the requisite resources on the moon for us to colonize it - for any number of definitions of "colony".

          At the very least, there's water - a big cost for short-term missions. If there's water and "soil", you can create a cultivatable environment (if on a small scale). Get a small nuclear reactor up there and autonomous building drones (battery/nuclear powered, of course), and you've got an "unlimited" supply of water and hydrogen which could be used as a longer-term fuel source.

          Such developments would almost immediately improve things here on earth, too: if you've got a portable, small ore refinery for moon use, you can use it for terrestrial industry, too (for those small-return, hard-to-reach locations).

          Before long, you'd have enough materials and/or infrastructure on the moon that you could consider a permanent human settlement. This could be used for a number of things:

          * Increased industrialization. With a little more research, we'd be able to package up the results and space-drop them to Earth.
          * Increased research opportunities in low-gravity environments (good for long-term space development)
          * A permanent low-gravity base from which spaceships could be more easily and potentially more cheaply built and launched. A 'space elevator' from the moon to a nearby colony vessel, for instance, would have significantly fewer requirements than one from Earth (strength and distance due to gravity well strength and size).
          * Deep space telescopes (because building a large 'permanent' telescope in a gravity well would be easier than doing so in space/for space, as would its maintenance).

          You minimize it, but "small" monumental jumps have had a very big impact, historically.
          * Winged flight? Who needs it when we've got rail!
          * Motor cars? What silly contraptions!
          * Trains, for passengers? Ridiculous, nobody needs to go that fast!
          * Go to the moon? What benefit is that? (Electronics industry revolution)

          Also, imagine the opportunity for jump-starting another technological revolution. Due to the nature of space, this one, would, I suspect, be largely focused on 'reduce, reuse, recycle' as a core basis of functionality, not a dogma). Imagine: a small portable device which could take any waste petrol (eg. a processed food wrapper, or a great many of them) and turn it into a new, useful item. We're probably pretty close to being able to do that today, just not at an economy of scale. If there were a marketing push or something similar (say, the novelty brought on by 'astronauts are doing it'), such a thing - or something similar - could catch on.

          Additionally, change in venue or requirements has often resulted in some interesting/novel/revolutionary improvements:
          * Westerners improved their garments by observing the natives.
          * New breeds of cattle were developed for use out West
          * Canned goods were essentially 'invented' for Napoleon's large armies
          * Larger, faster, more stable ships were invented to deal with the increased requirements of increased trans-Atlantic transit.

          Just think how many 'common day' things we use today, on a daily basis, because someone decided the tool they were using did not work well within their specific constraints (but ended up being broadly applicable elsewhere, too):
          * carbiner clips
          * multitools/swiss army knives
          * PDAs (and now, smartphones)
          * post-it notes

          I'm sure you can think of more. Those are the opportunities that further space exploration present.

          I'm sure that, if there is a financial interest in doing so, someone will figure out how to get to the moon and stay there on a semi-permanent basis - if there's a financial case for doing so.

          • Nice post, but... (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Chicken_Kickers (1062164) on Friday October 22, 2010 @01:15AM (#33982942)

            See, it's all nice to go misty eyed, chest out, with the Federation flag flapping in the wind behind you about space colonisation but think of it this way. We are living at the bottom of a deep and steep (gravitational) cliff, though generally, it is pleasant here and we (still) have what we need. The Moon/Mars/Alpha Centauri, with all its riches, gold and hot green women is on top of this cliff. Why should we have to expend money and energy to climb this cliff, to get stuff that we can easier get down here? Factor in the cost of going to the moon, mining it and transporting it back to Earth, it is probably more economical to extract gold from sea water. I'm not saying space colonisation will never happen. It could happen. But then again, I have a dim view of our chances. Also, there is no soil on the moon. In fact, moon dust is very abrasive and would be very hazardous to humans and our machinery.

      • Water = yes, gold = not really. Gold is about the most useless of all the elements. Yes, you can use it for wiring, but copper is about as good and much more plentiful. Gold is mainly valuable because fruit cakes think it is valuable.

        • by tibit (1762298)

          Try doing microelectronics without gold. LOL.

      • by c6gunner (950153)

        Common knowledge has been, "well there's nothing on the moon, but perhaps on Mars or [celestial body]" and now we are hearing conclusively that both water and gold are present.

        I wouldn't call that "common knowledge". We're fairly sure that the matter which makes up the moon was once parts of the earth, and got blasted off as a result of a massive collision. Therefore it stands to reason that the composition of the moon would resemble the composition of the earth, to a large extent. I've always figured there would have to be some water on the moon, as well as all the heavier elements which we see here on earth. We've just never had a chance to go take a serious look.

  • I can see it happening in the intermediate future... and some people will justify it as "healthier" than tap water, and others will justify it as "good for the economy".

    Okay, it might be good for R&D, but that's it. I wish the bottled water industry would die. The only thing they're good at is finding new ways to sell us water and continue polluting our planet.

  • cheaper mining? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ddxexex (1664191) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @07:48PM (#33981414)
    If you don't have to worry about the environment on the moon, how much gold (or rare earth metals or whatever) do you need to make a robotic lunar mining mission viable?
    • Re:cheaper mining? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 21, 2010 @08:05PM (#33981544)

      realistically if the moon was made of solid gold, it would still not be viable. it costs upwards of $50,000 per kg to get robotic stuff onto the moon. it also costs a metric shitload to mine not to mention run the he3 fusion reactor to power the mining operation. it costs an even more metric shitload to return the material to earth and handle moon launch reentry and terminal guidance. not gonna be economically viable anytime soon. you need something which costs around $1 million per kg for the whole operation to be paid for easily. the only thing that expensive might be computer chips which are best made on earth anyway.

      • by lee1026 (876806)

        Well, if you can build the reentry vehicles on the moon itself, returning stuff to Earth would be reasonably cheap. The moon's gravity well is not terribly deep compared to Earth.

    • Re:cheaper mining? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Darkness404 (1287218) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @08:07PM (#33981558)
      A lot. First off is the fact to even send something to the moon requires a pretty big rocket, something like the Saturn V isn't cheap. Secondly, mining robots aren't hardly even used on earth, let alone on the moon. Thirdly we've found some water and some rare elements, not that we've found a lake and huge gold nuggets so we'd have to send many more missions to locate a suitable "mine".

      Will we eventually mine the moon? Yes. Will it happen in the next 5 decades? Probably not and even then, the materials mined would make more sense to be used on something like a lunar colony, not for export back to Earth.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        That's extremely pessimistic. A living module and a couple astronauts could, with a reliable power source (whether solar or nuclear), begin mining the gold. You saw the old moon landing videos, those guys got out and walked around decades before microprocessing was a dirty thought.

        Spirit and Opportunity were $400,000,000, and they had no purpose besides observation. A project to begin mining gold on the moon? I'm 100% positive it is not only possible, but extremely plausible that if a substantial amoun
        • Re:cheaper mining? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by c6gunner (950153) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @09:21PM (#33981990)

          As stupid as it would be to go to the moon just for the sake of mining gold, I'd pay good money to see the looks on the faces of all the gold-hoarding doomsday-libertarians when the value of their stockpile plummets overnight.

          • Just FWIW, I think a lot of those "gold-hoarding doomsday-libertarians" are really more "gold-hoarding libertarians and others who think the US dollar is doomed" (or at least to fall drastically vis-a-vis other forex pairs.

            I'm not giving up on the usd yet but eur, aud, chf, gbp, and others do seem pretty strong in comparison.

            Makes sense to me on one logical level -- the US is not the world's unquestioned superpower anymore. Countries like Brazil, China, and India are growing incredibly rapidly, countries li

        • by tibit (1762298)

          What AC said above: even if Moon was solid, 24k gold, it'd not make economical sense to mine it there. End of story.

          • Re:cheaper mining? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Iron Condor (964856) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @11:56PM (#33982624)

            What AC said above: even if Moon was solid, 24k gold, it'd not make economical sense to mine it there. End of story.

            No, not end of story by a long shot.

            Mining gold on the moon makes economic sense exactly if it results in gain in excess of the original investment. How many dollars can you charge for an ounce of, not gold, but gold from the moon? The gold market is already based strictly on what people think is valuable. The price of gold has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the price of mining gold.

            Does it even have to be gold? How about a speck of genuine moon rock (in a nice clear plastic cast) - yours for only ... $59.99? How many slashdotters would buy such a thing? What would it cost to get, say, a couple kg of that back to earth? A billion dollars? That's the price of a nice oil rig. In other words: that's the kind of money that is already available and people are already expending it because they expect a decent return on that investment.

            You may want to be just a shade more careful with calling things economically infeasable.

        • Spirit and Opportunity were $400,000,000, and they had no purpose besides observation. A project to begin mining gold on the moon? I'm 100% positive it is not only possible, but extremely plausible that if a substantial amount of accessible gold was located

          Oh, it's possible. It's just not feasible - because the cost per oz. mined [on the moon] would be several orders of magnitude higher than terrestrial costs. (A Spirit sized robot with a little modification could mine enough ore to extract roughly .001 g

        • by lennier (44736)

          It would be a symbol of a nation's advancement and status to be mining wealth from the heavens.

          Ooh, space treasure fleets! And then we could have space pirates heaving-to alongside the bullion galleons to storm the airlocks at the cutlass-call of Cap'n Nellie Blackstrong, terror of the Terran Fleet.

          Yarr. Hsss. Yarr.

  • Quick! (Score:3, Funny)

    by cunniff (264218) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @07:49PM (#33981418) Homepage

    Call Yukon Cornelius! [youtube.com]

  • Since NASA has no chance of ever establishing any more manned missions outside Earth's atmosphere, thanks to the weak political will in Washington, the continual myopic budget cuts for NASA, and the idiotic use of NASA as a jobs program for certain states by certain politicians (who I will not name, to avoid the obvious trolling that will ensue), this discovery may actually lead to future lunar missions in space. The Moon is just close enough to Earth to be nearly practical for the private space companies,
    • by pspahn (1175617)

      Since NASA has no chance of ever establishing any more manned missions outside Earth's atmosphere

      Really? Ever? As in For?

      I highly doubt that. While at times I do share the same cynical outlook, political landscapes change. There is a lot of uncertainty in regard to the future of government sponsored space missions. You say "no chance". I say "some chance".

      • Its been 38 years since the last manned moon landing. In that time the world has changed immensely. Think about it, in 1972, all the computing power in the world back then would fit into a cell phone today. But we haven't even been back to the moon despite it being easier to do than in the 60s.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ColdWetDog (752185)

          But we haven't even been back to the moon despite it being easier to do than in the 60s.

          You're basically correct but the reason we're not back on the moon has little to do with electronics and lots to do with the fact that physics hasn't changed much in those 38 years. Gravity sucks.

        • in 1972, all the computing power in the world back then would fit into a cell phone today.

          So you're saying all I need to get to the moon is a cell phone?

    • by EdIII (1114411)

      Private Space Companies?

      Ok. Who owns the Moon? I remember hearing about some crazy stuff a little while back how somebody claimed ownership of the Moon and started selling plots. If we are actually going to go there and start mining it with private companies then ownership will HAVE to be decided first. Otherwise it is a free for all, might makes right, who has the most missiles type of deal.

      I am not sure if we really know what the Moon is comprised of anyways. Sure we know about the surface, but do we

      • by c6gunner (950153)

        Ok. Who owns the Moon? I remember hearing about some crazy stuff a little while back how somebody claimed ownership of the Moon and started selling plots.

        I remember hearing about some crazy stuff a while back, like some guy selling the Eiffel Tower. Just because scam-artists are selling something doesn't mean that it's ownership is being disputed.

        If we are actually going to go there and start mining it with private companies then ownership will HAVE to be decided first. Otherwise it is a free for all, might makes right, who has the most missiles type of deal.

        You could make the same argument about Antarctica. I mean, yeah, you're right, but it's not an issue at this point, and we'll deal with it when the time comes. On the other hand, missiles won't have much to do with it - it's not as if there are hundreds of nations who can launch such a program at this point. Eve

    • by j_sp_r (656354)

      Like building a lander while both canceling the payload (robot) and the heavy lift vehicle?

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @07:59PM (#33981492)

    The moon men announced that they are diplomatically officially in a "huff" with the Earth, and that no rare Earth metals would be shipped from the Moon to the Earth.

    Off the record, sources close to the moon men said, "Get your own damn rare metals from your own planet!"

    Sources to close for comfort to NASA officials have commented, "Do we have to bomb the Moon again, until they get it?"

    • by spidercoz (947220)
      You joke but that's exactly what we should do. If there is an adequate amount of the minerals present, there's our incentive to get back to the moon.
  • by Kugrian (886993) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @08:03PM (#33981528) Homepage

    This is a great discovery, but what are we going to do with it? The obvious thing is to mine it out, but wouldn't lightening the mass of the moon have a (probably quite bad) effect on it's tidal effects to the earth?

    • by spidercoz (947220)
      Insignificant. It would take millennia to remove that much mass from the moon.
    • by Da Cheez (1069822) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @08:12PM (#33981586)

      This is a great discovery, but what are we going to do with it? The obvious thing is to mine it out, but wouldn't lightening the mass of the moon have a (probably quite bad) effect on it's tidal effects to the earth?

      The mass of whatever rare elements we pull off the moon would probably be negligible compared to its overall mass. I would be more worried about the seemingly permanent change in appearance the moon would suffer with mining operations running on it. Without something like an atmosphere, any changes we make will be there for eons. I guess there's no practical reason for it, but I kind of like looking up into the sky and seeing a pristine lunar landscape. Maybe if they only mined the dark side of the moon....

    • "The obvious thing is to mine it out, but wouldn't lightening the mass of the moon have a (probably quite bad) effect on it's tidal effects to the earth?"

      You are joking, aren't you?

      And who the heck modded that "interesting"? Unless, of course, the "interesting" part is looking for how the heck are we going to mine to an extent that makes anything about a tiny fraction of a tiny scratch out of a whole damn body as massive as the Moon.

    • by pclminion (145572)
      To get material from Moon to Earth you need a delta-v of about 1 km/sec. That corresponds to a change in energy of 500000 J per kilogram. To remove even 0.000001% of the Moon's mass and send it down to earth, it would take 3.7e20 J, roughly the equivalent of 87 gigatons of TNT.
      • by Joe Snipe (224958)

        Did someone say massive cash contract- err, I mean environmentally friendly resources? Count me in!

        Signed,

        Haliburton

    • by baegucb (18706)

      Just remember, they slammed extra metal onto the moon at mach 8! It evens out ;)

    • Terrorists members from Al-Qaeda are hiding in the moon! We must go there and defeat them!

      gold being discovered there is just plain coincidence

    • but wouldn't lightening the mass of the moon have a (probably quite bad) effect on it's tidal effects to the earth?

      Nah, that sort of thing only happens to Klingons.

    • OK. so the mass of the moon is, oh about 7.346 x 10^22kg [wolframalpha.com] that's approximately 73459000000000000000 tonnes. If we extract, say, 1 million tonnes of stuff from the moon, that's about 1.3 x 10^-17 %, also known as a poofteenth of a percent.
      According to my calculations, this will be enough to move the moon closer to us by about 4.76 x 10^-11 metres or approximately the diameter of a hydrogen atom.

  • by Rod Beauvex (832040) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @08:05PM (#33981546)
    Water? Gold? Silver? Why have we not brought democracy to the moon yet?
  • TFA

    "You know how volatile mercury is on earth," said Randy Gladstone of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, in a press conference on Thursday. "It's probably more volatile than other metals on the moon."

    Must be because the Moon shows more oil and interest rate shocks [drexel.edu]

  • Are there whalers on the moon? Do they carry a harpoon?
  • by Gavin Scott (15916) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @08:16PM (#33981632)

    It seems to me that everything that you can find on the moon (or in asteroids for that matter) can be found here on earth in similar quantities and accessed more inexpensively, probably by a factor of 1/1,000,000 or so.

    Sure, building your starship construction facility on the moon has advantages, ok, one advantage, that of 1/10 the gravity of earth, but honestly is it really cheaper to build something there rather than just do it on earth? Sure it would cost a lot more to launch stuff out of Earth's gravity well, but is it so much more expensive that it justifies the cost of learning how to do all this stuff on the moon?

    You tell me what you want to do on the moon and I'll tell you how to do it faster and cheaper here on Earth.

    There are lots of fun reasons to explore space (and maybe even the moon) but not for silver mining (and spaceport construction).

    I know people get all romantic about human space flight, but personally I'd say send the robots until we find something worth visiting in person. They're better at the job.

    G.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      No, they are not better at the job. They might be better in a specific task, but not over all.

      Having someone on Mars to make judgments about where to look it far more productive, and humans are far more adaptable to obstacles....but it's also far more expensive.

  • Now we need to launch a nuke at the moon to make said gold radioactive for years. Almost worked for Goldfinger.
  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @08:35PM (#33981740)

    Who has the mine rights? The us? USSR? China? NASA it self? Neil Armstrong?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by PGGreens (1699764)
      We better get on this. We must not allow a mineshaft gap!
    • 100 acres per human landing, I believe.

    • If someone is smart enough, he/she can make it an independent entity. Strangely enough, a lot of the complexities were covered in Heinlein's story "The Man Who Sold The Moon".

      For example, the problem of the moon being theoretically owned by all the countries it orbited directly over. This was determined by what most folks consider as universal property sovereignty rights: a country owned a wedge of Earth in the cross-sectional shape of that country, starting as a pin-point at the Earth's core, and spreading

  • by Tanman (90298) on Thursday October 21, 2010 @08:51PM (#33981820)

    Is there any amount of materials on the moon that would make it profitable for a company to build the capability to mine it and ship material back to earth? I'm not sure there is. Lets say you found a boulder of gold that weighed three tons. A solid nugget. What are the costs associated with recovering that nugget? Now, realizing that they won't find that, but instead ore and other materials that need processing, there are additional considerations: Do you pay for the shipping weight of ore, or do you pay to process the ore on the moon and ship the material? If you process it on the moon, how do you handle the additional maintenance and engineering requirements?

    I didn't RTFA, but just seeing that valuable materials on the moon made me question how valuable ANYTHING is when you have to pay so much per unit of weight to retrieve it. Maybe Chuck Norris' cancer-curing tears, if they were found on the moon. But I can't think of much else.

    • Freight costs overwhelm material costs, but that works in both directions.

      Once you're out of Earth orbit, resources from the Moon are much cheaper to you than resources blasted out of Earth's gravity well.

      Water is especially wonderful. Electrolyze it and liquefy the results, and you have rocket fuel.

  • What, no Unobtainium?

    If they had found that you could bet some nation would be there by next summer, at the latest.
  • by LongearedBat (1665481) on Friday October 22, 2010 @12:33AM (#33982796)
    Obviously the moon contains (actially, consists of) minerals. It wouldn't be there otherwise. Especially seeing as it was a large chunk broken off from Earth a few billion years ago. And sure, earth has been supplemented by asteroids since then, but so has the moon. So the question is not really "Does the moon have minerals?" but more a matter of "How much can we expect to find on the surface?".

    Gold and silver are somewhat financially valuable to us now. But from what I understand, they are also relatively common. I suspect the reports highlight gold and silver because that's language that beancounters who pay for the space programs understand. But there are far more valuable resources that we'll desparately need in 25-75 years time.

    So, more importantly... because lacking in rare earth minerals could stymie advancements in technology...
    What "rare earth" minerals might be "common moon" minerals?
  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Friday October 22, 2010 @07:02AM (#33984018)
    In space, it becomes just yet another metal, and not a particularly useful one at that (as opposed to things like silver, platinum, palladium, etc). And transporting the stuff back to Earth would be more expensive than its value, and hence quite uneconomical.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      Gold is very useful for plating electrical connections. It's nearly as conductive as silver but doesn't oxidise like silver does.

Real programs don't eat cache.

Working...