Lunar orbiter spots moisture locations

Jan. 13, 2012 at 8:22 PM
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SAM ANTONIO, Texas, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed features at the moon's northern and southern poles in regions that lie in perpetual darkness, researchers said.

The Lyman Alpha Mapping Project aboard the LRO, developed by the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, uses a novel method to peer into the so-called permanently shadowed regions, making visible the invisible.

Maps created by LAMP show many PSRs are darker at far-ultraviolet wavelengths and redder than nearby surface areas that receive sunlight.

The darker regions are consistent with large surface porosities indicating "fluffy" soils while the reddening is consistent with the presence of water frost on the surface, researchers said.

"Our results suggest there could be as much as 1 percent to 2 percent water frost in some permanently shadowed soils," study author Randy Gladstone said in an SRI release Thursday.

Finding water frost at these locations adds to the understanding of the moon's water content, researchers said.

LRO's findings are expected to be valuable to the future consideration of a permanent moon base, they said, as any discovery of water frost and other resources in the area could reduce the need to transport resources from Earth to a base at the lunar poles.

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