National Aeronautics and Space Administration + NASA Quest
+ Search Quest
 Find it at NASA
 Go
 Home mission About the Moon impact
 LCROSS - Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Spacecraft
 Tech Info observation education news

 

LCROSS Results Released
Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS)

Oct. 21, 2010

Michael Braukus
Headquarters, Washington Oct. 21, 2010
202-358-1979
michael.j.braukus@nasa.gov
RELEASE: 10-271:

NASA MISSIONS UNCOVER THE MOON'S BURIED TREASURES

WASHINGTON -- Nearly a year after announcing the discovery of water molecules on the moon, scientists Thursday revealed new data uncovered by NASA's Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO.

The missions found evidence that the lunar soil within shadowy craters is rich in useful materials, and the moon is chemically active and has a water cycle. Scientists also confirmed the water was in the form of mostly pure ice crystals in some places. The results are featured in six papers published in the Oct. 22 issue of Science.

"NASA has convincingly confirmed the presence of water ice and characterized its patchy distribution in permanently shadowed regions of the moon," said Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This major undertaking is the one of many steps NASA has taken to better understand our solar system, its resources, and its origin, evolution, and future."

The twin impacts of LCROSS and a companion rocket stage in the moon's Cabeus crater on Oct. 9, 2009, lifted a plume of material that might not have seen direct sunlight for billions of years. As the plume traveled nearly 10 miles above the rim of Cabeus, instruments aboard LCROSS and LRO made observations of the crater and debris and vapor clouds. After the impacts, grains of mostly pure water ice were lofted into the sunlight in the vacuum of space.

"Seeing mostly pure water ice grains in the plume means water ice was somehow delivered to the moon in the past, or chemical processes have been causing ice to accumulate in large quantities," said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "Also, the diversity and abundance of certain materials called volatiles in the plume, suggest a variety of sources, like comets and asteroids, and an active water cycle within the lunar shadows."

Volatiles are compounds that freeze and are trapped in the cold lunar craters and vaporize when warmed by the sun. The suite of LCROSS and LRO instruments determined as much as 20 percent of the material kicked up by the LCROSS impact was volatiles, including methane, ammonia, hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. The instruments also discovered relatively large amounts of light metals such as sodium, mercury and possibly even silver.

Scientists believe the water and mix of volatiles that LCROSS and LRO detected could be the remnants of a comet impact. According to scientists, these volatile chemical by-products are also evidence of a cycle through which water ice reacts with lunar soil grains.

LRO's Diviner instrument gathered data on water concentration and temperature measurements, and LRO's Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector mapped the distribution of hydrogen. This combined data led the science team to conclude the water is not uniformly distributed within the shadowed cold traps, but rather is in pockets, which may also lie outside the shadowed regions.

The proportion of volatiles to water in the lunar soil indicates a process called "cold grain chemistry" is taking place. Scientists also theorize this process could take as long as hundreds of thousands of years and may occur on other frigid, airless bodies, such as asteroids; the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, including Europa and Enceladus; Mars' moons; interstellar dust grains floating around other stars and the polar regions of Mercury.

"The observations by the suite of LRO and LCROSS instruments demonstrate the moon has a complex environment that experiences intriguing chemical processes," said Richard Vondrak, LRO project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "This knowledge can open doors to new areas of research and exploration."

By understanding the processes and environments that determine where water ice will be, how water was delivered to the moon and its active water cycle, future mission planners might be better able to determine which locations will have easily-accessible water. The existence of mostly pure water ice could mean future human explorers won't have to retrieve the water out of the soil in order to use it for valuable life support resources. In addition, an abundant presence of hydrogen gas, ammonia and methane could be exploited to produce fuel.

LCROSS launched with LRO aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on June 18, 2009, and used the Centaur upper stage rocket to create the debris plume. The research was funded by NASA's Exploration Systems Missions Directorate at the agency's headquarters. LCROSS was managed by Ames and built by Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, Calif. LRO was built and is managed by Goddard.

For more information about LCROSS, a complete list of the papers and their authors, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/lcross

For more information about the LRO mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/lro

link to Arno Animation

View new Mission Annimation.

Follow Media Telecon:
LCROSS and LRO Science Science Results of Lunar Impact

Date: Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010
Time: 11 a.m. PDT / 2 p.m. EDT

link to press briefing slides

Download the slides from the
Press Briefing on 21 October 2010

The first figure shows the total radiance (total light) seen by the ultraviolet-visual and near infared spectrometers on LCROSS, which monitored the light scattering from the impact debris cloud, as a function of time relative to impact. The time of impact can be seen by the increasing level of light as dust makes its way into sunlight, reaching its brightest point at about 20-30 seconds after impact.

The next image show the debris cloud in the visible camera at approximately 20 seconds after impact. At this time, the debris cloud is approximately six miles across filling the spectrometer fields of view.

The next series of images shows how data from the near infrared spectrometer can be analyzed by modeling various compounds to the data. The first compound included is water ice, followed by water vapor. Other compounds shown in this example include hydroxyl and sulfur dioxide and methane.

The next image show another example of a data showing strong water ice features.

The last frame provides a table summarizing the estimates of water vapor, ice and impact debris cloud mass in the spectrometers fields of view, and the resulting estimate of water fraction in the debris cloud. It is this analysis that returns an average concentration of water equal to 5.6% in the soil at the Centaur impact site.
Video credit: NASA/Ames


Visit the NASA Mission Site @ http://www.nasa.gov/lcross

 
 FirstGov  NASA


Editor: Brian Day
NASA Official: Daniel Andrews
Last Updated: October 2010