Sunday, September 27, 2009

Water on the moon changes a lot of assumptions

This week's realization that there probably is water on earth's moon raises a lot of questions -- not the least of which being, "what other things don't we know about space that we think we do know?" NASA scientists reached the startling conclusion about the presence of water after analyzing data from an instrument they supplied to to India's Chandrayaan-1 satellite, that country's first unmanned moon mission, according to the New York Times. The device detected the widespread presence of hydroxyl, a molecule composed of one atom of hydrogen and one atom of water, on a celestial body long considered completely dry. The discovery was published this week on the Web site of the journal Science. What may be even more surprising is that the finding actually replicates earlier findings of the Apollo missions, which brought back lunar soil containing evidence of water decades ago but were attributed to contamination from the moist earth atmosphere, the Times said. The data also confirms findings from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which passed the moon 10 years ago on its way to Saturn, and the Deep Impact spacecraft sent to study the comet Tempel 1, the Times said. “It’s so startling because it’s so pervasive,” Lawrence A. Taylor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, told the Times. "It's like somebody painted the globe." Taylor co-wrote a paper analyzing the Chandrayaan-1 data. NASA scientists now are examining the possibility that the moon's hydroxyl could be used to supply water and even oxygen for future manned missions to the moon, or for a permanent installation there, the Times said. But that's just like humans to see this new discovery in terms of human beings. Maybe it means that there is or was another type of life on the moon or on other planets in our solar system, life that we don't even begin to understand or know how to recognize. And maybe, just maybe, it means that a lot of our other assumptions about earth and space are incorrect.

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