NASA: Millions of tons of water discovered on moon

NASA radar system onboard Indian orbiter detects water ice in about 40 craters on north pole

A NASA radar system onboard India's lunar orbiter has spotted evidence of water -- a lot of water -- on the moon's north pole.

The space agency announced Monday that scientists have discovered about 600 million metric tons of water ice in more than 40 craters on the lunar surface. The craters, which are in permanent shadow and extremely cold, range in size from one to nine miles in diameter. NASA scientists have long theorized that the dark, cold craters held one of their best chances of finding water ice on the moon.

"After analyzing the data, our science team determined a strong indication of water ice, a finding which will give future missions a new target to further explore and exploit," said Jason Crusan, a program executive for NASA's Space Operations Mission Directorate, in a statement.

The NASA radar system that made the discovery has been dubbed Mini-SAR. The instrument, which weighs less than 22 pounds, sends out pulses of radar and then uses reflected radio waves to basically make images or map out the lunar surface.

The radar instrument is flying aboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, which was launched in October 2008 by the Indian Space Research Organization. The lunar orbiter is designed to return scientific information about the geological, mineralogical and topographical characteristics of the moon, according to NASA.

Chandrayaan means "journey to the moon" in Hindi.

This week's findings come on the heels of NASA's attempt to find lunar water ice by slamming two spacecraft into a deep, dark crater on the moon's south pole last October.

Effectively, it was a one-two punch designed to kick up what scientists believe is water ice sitting at the bottom of a permanently dark crater.

NASA said that mission gave them data to work with, but they have not yet released any findings from it.

Since the space agency plans one day to be able to create a viable outposts on the moon, it would be helpful if the people using the outposts had access to water instead of having to haul it up from Earth.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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