Divya Gandhi

BANGALORE: Speculation is rife among space scientists that the quest for water on the moon may have reached a climactic end with the discovery of “a lot of water” by an instrument on board Chandrayaan-I.

A report by the online space news portal, Space Ref, says this discovery, made by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (developed by NASA) on board the Indian mission, will be the subject of a press conference, to be addressed by Carle Pieters, planetary geologist and principal investigator of the instrument, at the NASA headquarters on Thursday.

The Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3), an imaging spectrometer, was one of the 11 instruments on board Chandrayaan-I that came to a premature end on August 29. M3 was aimed at providing the first mineral map of the entire lunar surface.

Hinting at this exciting development, a recent report published by Nature News says: “Results soon to be published… will show detailed spectra confirming that, indeed, the polar regions of the moon are chockfull of water-altered minerals.”

Lunar scientists have for decades contended with the possibility of water repositories. They are now increasingly “confident that the decades-long debate is over,” the report says. “The moon, in fact, has water in all sorts of places; not just locked up in minerals, but scattered throughout the broken-up surface, and, potentially, in blocks or sheets of ice at depth.” The results from the NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), launched earlier this year, are also “offering a wide array of watery signals.”

A thermal mapping instrument on LRO showed that the permanently shadowed regions within polar craters are as cold as 35 degrees Kelvin (minus 238 degrees Celsius) — even colder than the surface of Pluto, making them possibly the coldest places in the solar system, says Nature News.

“Lunar scientists are eagerly awaiting data from two groups investigating the hydrated minerals in polar areas outside the permanently shadowed craters (the only place where instruments that depend on reflected light can see),” it says.

The observations made by M3 “will be published in Science, and will show more detailed spectroscopic evidence for … watery minerals.”

On the significance of such a discovery, Carle Pieters, in an interview with this reporter several months ago, said: “The current expectation is that water ice is buried in the lunar poles. But we do not know yet — it is going to take several instruments to answer that question, including M3.”