By John Johnson Jr. – Los Angeles Times
Scientists have found the strongest evidence yet that water exists on the moon, a discovery that helps complete a picture of a water-rich solar system and could make colonizing Earth’s nearest neighbor much easier than previously thought.
Using data from three spacecraft that have made close flybys of the moon in recent years, research teams in the United States have found proof that a thin film of water coats the surface of the soil in at least some places on the moon.
“Within the context of lunar science, this is a major discovery,” said Paul Lucey, a planetary scientist with the University of Hawaii, who was not involved in the current research. “There was zero accepted evidence that there was any water at the lunar surface, (but) now it is shown to be easily detectable, though by extremely sensitive methods. As a lunar scientist, when I read about this I was completely blown away.”
The discovery “will forever change how we look at the moon,” said Roger Clark, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver and author of one of three papers, each dealing with data from a different spacecraft, appearing in this week’s Science magazine.
For decades, the moon had been considered by scientists to be a dead and uninteresting world. The Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s brought back some rocks that contained tiny amounts of trapped water, but scientists at the time decided they had been contaminated by water from Earth.
Proponents of human space travel hope this new discovery will put pressure on the White House to follow through with Bush administration plans to return to the moon by 2020 and to construct Earth’s first off-world colony there.
At the very least, the discovery lends weight to a new view of a friendlier solar system, where water, the lifeblood of biology on Earth, suddenly seems to be everywhere.
Last year’s Phoenix mission to Mars’ polar region found ice. Ice also has been found on Saturn’s moon Titan, and it covers Jupiter’s moon Europa.