Water on the Moon

Going back in time a little bit, back before I went to the International Space University to get my Masters Degree and reshape my career path, I worked as a research assistant doing planetary geology at Brown University. Most of my time there was spent studying a particular set of features on Mars, but one of my favorite side activities was auditing a class on the geology of the Moon.

A Thin Slice of the orange beads found on Apollo 17. Image Credit: G. Ryder, Lunar and Planetary Institute.My memory of that class is, to be perfectly honest, a bit hazy these days (I've put my planetary science skills on the shelf for a while now...), but I do recall clearly that we spent a fair amount of time talking about the green and orange glass beads discovered by the Apollo astronauts on Apollo 15 and 17. We even had a chance to look at some thin slices of some of the samples under microscope, like the one you'll see at left. (An aside: for a brief while, I was in charge of protecting the locked briefcase that contained the samples--a very surreal moment. This came just after the scandal where some NASA interns made off with some Moon rocks and tried to sell them on eBay, so you can imagine the security was high! I had some James-Bond-inspired fun with the suitcase, I can assure you.)

Apart from quickly and conclusively proving the veracity of the Moon landings to any geologist worth his rock hammer and Brunton, these samples also set eager minds whirling with both the coolness of examining a part of the Moon and the number of intriguing questions the samples could raise and sometimes answer.

So of course, I, like so many others, was thrilled to read about the article in Nature that claims that scientists have found strong indicators of water in the samples, which are estimated to be about 3 billion years old (I was even happier to see some of the scientists responsible were at Brown). The Nature article itself isn't available online for free, but the Scientific American write-up is pretty good, and worth checking out.

Obviously, this discovery doesn't mean that the Moon is now or was ever particularly wet; and it likely doesn't have any impact on potential future human colonization or basing. But it's another cool factoid, and another thrilling piece of information that will help tell us more about the Moon and about the solar system at large.

Now, given the questions that people have already asked about the Water Detection Bonus for the Google Lunar X PRIZE, I'm sure it's just a matter of time before someone talks about crushing lunar glass beads to claim the prize!

Pierre-Damien said...

Wow I never heard thi story of the Moon rocks stolen by NASA interns! This is pretty incredible! I just love it!!!

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