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No Ice on the Moon 113

eldavojohn writes "In 1994, there was speculation that there might be a southern ice cap on the moon — something our exploration of it could take advantage of. Unfortunately, recent evidence has come to light revealing that this probably isn't true." From the article: "If there is any ice at the South Pole, it probably comes from tiny, scattered grains that probably account for only one or two percent of the local dust, the authors suggest. "Any planning for future exploitation of hydrogen at the Moon's South Pole should be constrained by this low average abundance rather than by the expectation of localized deposits at higher concentrations," the paper says soberly. The research involved sending a radar signal from the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico. The signal hit the southern lunar region and the reflection was picked up by the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia." Well, it looks like we're going to have to hit Hoth before we hold that kegger on the moon."
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No Ice on the Moon

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  • No Margaritas on the moon? And after NASA spent million developing a low gee blender.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by drpimp ( 900837 )
      And No cheese either, those Lunar cocktail parties are really going to suck aren't they .....
      • by SeaFox ( 739806 )
        And No cheese either,

        Oh, no the cheese is there. There's just nothing to keep it cold now. Bet those astronauts are happy they have separate air supplies so they don't have to smell it when they're walking around.
    • Oh they can get you the ice. The only question is, will you really want to drink it?
      • Doesn't NASA have a water filtration device that they use to turn their urine into drinkable water? I'm sure they can make moon water drinkable. But what will they do about the strange powers the water gives them. Will the astronauts use it for good or for evil?
  • Green Bank Telescope (Score:5, Interesting)

    by penix1 ( 722987 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @11:26PM (#16496505) Homepage
    The research involved sending a radar signal from the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico. The signal hit the southern lunar region and the reflection was picked up by the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia


    I live in WV and have seen the Green Bank Telescope. Impressive radio telescope. Not as impressive as Arecibo though. I was expecting more like an array but it really is just one giant dish.

    Better link than in the story:

    http://www.gb.nrao.edu/ [nrao.edu]

    B.
    • by neurostar ( 578917 ) <neurostar@@@privon...com> on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @11:39PM (#16496635)

      Not as impressive as Arecibo though. I was expecting more like an array but it really is just one giant dish.

      It is *just* one big dish.. but it's also the world's largest full steerable telescope (aricebo isn't fully steerable). Also, it's one of very few off-axis paraboloid telescopes. (One of the nice things about this is the collection unit doesn't block any of the light that would be incident on the reflector.)

      For impressive arrays, check out the VLA [nrao.edu], ALMA [nrao.edu] (soon), or SKA [skatelescope.org] (later). I was at the VLA last summer as part of my research (I do astronomy), it is very impressive. I was able to go into the dishes.. they're huge.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I live about 30-45 minutes away from NRAO (and in WV, that's practically next door), I've been in the control centers for all of the telescopes, I even got to hang out with the SETI guys, before they became project phoenix.. The big dish is HUGE. The dish is the size of a football field. It weighs 16,000,000 (yes, 16 million) pounds. Here is a picture showing the GBT to scale with the washington monument and the statue of liberty: http://www.space.com/images/h_steerable_size_02.jp g [space.com]

        They had a telescope almo
      • by penix1 ( 722987 )

        For impressive arrays, check out the VLA, ALMA (soon), or SKA (later). I was at the VLA last summer as part of my research (I do astronomy), it is very impressive. I was able to go into the dishes.. they're huge.

        They are impressive especially VLA. I was expecting something similar to that but saw this ginormous (I know it's not a word but still...) dish. All that I could think of besides "WOW!" was "I bet they get HBO real clear." (If you can't tell, I don't do too much astronomy). Isn't it kind of dangerou

        • Isn't it kind of dangerous both to you and the dish to be inside it? I'd be too scared of doing it some damage but then again, I'm a klutz.

          It is when it's being used.. but I was able to walk around on a dish that was offline (it was also pointing straight up). With radio waves, it's not as big an issue as with optical telescopes. The requirements for the accuracy of the surface are lower due to the longer wavelengths involved. There was a quarter sized hole in the dish I was walking around on, and that

      • I'm impressed! (Score:3, Interesting)

        by maillemaker ( 924053 )
        After reading this article, I feel like when you used to watch Spock look into his mystery screen and make pronouncements about just about anything. "Captain, the enemy captain is wearing green boxers!"

        We bounce some radar off of the freaking /moon/ pick it up somewhere else, and know that there is no water there. Damn amazing to me.

        Steve
      • they're huge.
        how big was it? ... couldn't resist
      • The off-axis design also means you don't get diffraction patterns from the collector, a more important issue than the small amount of light that would be blocked.
    • Did anyone else read that on the webpage and get the image of a chainsaw-handed wiseguy kicking ass at the Smithsonian?

      -Eric

  • These types of stories seem to go back and forth. First the moon had no water/ice/hydrogen, then they thought there might be some subsurface ice/water, then maybe ice at the south pole, now nothing. I wouldn't be surprised if another study came out revealing that the moon was actually made of ice with a couple feet of moon rock and dust on top. If nothing else, the constantly changing ideas of our moon's makeup is keeping plenty of scientists employed.
    • I wouldn't be surprised if another study came out revealing that the moon was actually made of ice with a couple feet of moon rock and dust on top.

      No, it's cheese!
    • That's just silly (Score:5, Interesting)

      by StefanJ ( 88986 ) on Thursday October 19, 2006 @12:14AM (#16496889) Homepage Journal
      Sometimes stories just go back, and not forth. I suspect this is one of them.

      Back in the Apollo days, a Saturn V third stage was allowed to smash into the moon so seismographs could pick up the vibrations. This and other tests allowed scientists to get a basic idea of the moon's interior structure. A core or crust of ice would have been pretty obvious. If there was any ice, it would have to be just traces.

      Our instruments are getting increasingly better. This is a case of a hypothesis based on observations by a crude instrument being disproved by follow-up investigations by more sophisticated gear.

      I'm disappointed, but hey, the universe wasn't designed to things easy for us.
      • by Rei ( 128717 )
        The sad thing is that, if there is no ice (or ice in insignificant quantities) on the moon, it furthers the argument for the impossibility of true lunar colonies (not bases**) within the next few hundred years. Hydrogen is in ppm quantities in lunar regolith and rock. So is carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. Of the chemicals needed for life, the moon now, apparently, only has sizable amounts of oxygen, mostly locked up tightly with aluminum, titanium, and silcon.

        ** - By "colony", I mean at least mostly, i
      • The seismic experiments didn't get that detailed of a picture; largely just a spherically symmetric radial structure. You wouldn't expect to detect a small patch of ice in a localized region on the surface unless it were right under your source or detector.
    • by QuantumG ( 50515 )
      You're right, I'm sick of all this experimentation, observation, hypothesis, confirming, refuting, erk! What's the point of it? What do the scientists call this process anyway?

      </sarcasm>

    • by Quadraginta ( 902985 ) on Thursday October 19, 2006 @01:01AM (#16497287)
      Mmm, actually, the way it worked is this:

      (1) Clementine observed a particular wiggle in the radar reflection. At the time, it was thought the only reasonable way to get that wiggle was to have the radar reflect off ice. Huzzah! Ice! (Well, not really. It hasn't been directly observed -- no one's held it in their hand -- but it seemed no other explanation would account for the wiggle.)

      (2) Now someone has come up with an alternative explanation for the wiggle, and demonstrated that you can get it from areas (sunlit areas) which really shouldn't have ice. Throws cold water, so to speak, on the idea that only ice can make the radar signature wiggle.

      But does this mean no ice? Nope. Now we have two explanations for Clementine's observation: ice or some surface roughness thingy. Which is the right cause? Could be ice, could be merely rough rocks, could be both.

      So it's not that ice on the Moon has been disproved. It's that a previous proof (or strong suggestion of) ice on the Moon has been shown to be in error. Doesn't mean the ice isn't there. Just means we no longer know (or think we know) whether it is or not. Have to go take a shovel and find out, I think.
    • Excuse my ignorance and lack of knowledge (I'm no astonomer), but if the moon was -made- of ice, wouldn't it have all/mostly vaporized by now? Wouldn't that also negate the theory that the moon was created from Earth due to a megacatastrophic impact?
  • Hydrogen (Score:2, Insightful)

    by arth1 ( 260657 )
    Note that no water doesn't mean no hydrogen. You can produce hydrogen from most rocks too. It takes too much energy, I hear the peanut gallery cry? Nah, energy on the moon is abundant -- there's no atmosphere to filter the sunlight, and all you need is time to wait. So what if it takes fifty times as much free energy as breaking up water?
    • Well, like mining, it is about costs. The ice is a vein of material which means that we would have water, O2, and rocket fuel in one trip. Now we will have to send multiple trips to the moon with loads more equipment to process a lot more.

      As to the energy, well, if we locate at the poles, we are in good shape. If locate on the equator, we have energy only half the time.
    • Actually, lunar rocks are unlike Earth rocks in that they contain far less hydrogen. You're right they they do have some. But such a tiny amount that gathering up the regolith would take significant time and energy - heating it to extract the gases is cheap by comparison.

  • Only 1%? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @11:48PM (#16496693)
    1% (speculated proportion of water in the dust) seems like a lot to me. Separating that 1% of water from the dust would probably be more cost effective than bringing it up from Earth.
    • 1% (speculated proportion of water in the dust) seems like a lot to me. Separating that 1% of water from the dust would probably be more cost effective than bringing it up from Earth.

      1% isn't as much as it seems. It's essentially nil. In the Shapotou Region of the Tengger Desert (Northern China), the measured water content of the sand is 1.23%. Bear in mind this is a place that gets rain.

      In terms or transport costs you'd be best off shipping water from Mars. The delta-v to get from Mars surface to Lunar sur
      • 1% is a lot more than it sounds. Distilling it out of rock with a solar still is pretty straightforward- there's plenty of Sun on the moon for 2 weeks out of every 4, and it moves across the sky very slowly, so tracking it is easy.

        You really need to compare this with some of the ores on Earth. 1% is a really, really high abundance; abundances are usually measured in parts per million.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @11:50PM (#16496723)
    We're whalers on the moon, We carry a harpoon. But there ain't no whales So we tell tall tales And sing our whaling tune.
  • Solution. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rendo ( 918276 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @11:51PM (#16496729)
    Just send a bunch of scornful women to the moon, and there will be LOTS of ice in no time.

    By that I mean, I hate my wife.
    • by LuNa7ic ( 991615 )
      You just posted on slashdot, you don't have a wife!
      • by whimmel ( 189969 )
        If she reads slashdot or google's for his account name, then he won't have a wife for long ;-)
    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      Just send a bunch of scornful women to the moon

      I would be quite happy to have my taxpayer $$ spent on sending Martha Stewart to the moon. But only if there is no return vehicle.

      -Eric

  • In 1994, there was speculation that there might be a southern ice cap on the moon -- something our exploration of it could take advantage of. Unfortunately, recent evidence has come to light revealing that this probably isn't true.

    Lucky for us! now we don't have to worry about the ice pirates. [imdb.com]
  • by isolationism ( 782170 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2006 @11:58PM (#16496793) Homepage

    Science fiction writers (the hard- variety) like Stephen Baxter have been lamenting the likelyhood of this eventuality for years now. Not that it isn't nice to at least have some closure, but on the other hand it seems like the news is little more than the last nail in the coffin for the most obvious pas-de-terre between Earth and space.

    There is one book--Manifold Space, I think it might be--that muses upon the notion that there may be some water deeply buried (e.g. 20+ kilometres) the surface, and all the difficulties involved in getting to it (e.g. standard mining techniques developed on Earth wouldn't work there for a host of reasons). Excellent book/series, incidentally. Strongly recommended for any space science enthusiasts.

    • Just for future reference, "lamenting" doesn't mean "doubting," "questioning," etc.
    • standard mining techniques developed on Earth wouldn't work there

      While true, I think you are being needlessly glum here.

      For example, it is true that normal pumps would not work for removing rain water from a lunar ice-mine, because they rely on the pressure of the atmosphere. But having your lunar ice-mine fill with water is not nearly as big of a problem as you might think. All you need to do is change all the signage to read "Lunar Well" instead and you're done.

      Likewise, a canary can not be used

    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      Pardon my ignorance, but what does the term "pas-de-terre" mean?

      -Eric

    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      There is one book--Manifold Space, I think it might be--that muses upon the notion that there may be some water deeply buried (e.g. 20+ kilometres) the surface, and all the difficulties involved in getting to it (e.g. standard mining techniques developed on Earth wouldn't work there for a host of reasons). Excellent book/series, incidentally. Strongly recommended for any space science enthusiasts.

      You're forcing me to read this book. But I should point out that 20 kilometers down isn't that far down with

      • by QuantumG ( 50515 )
        It's a trilogy, Manifold Time, Manifold Space and Manifold Origin. I thought the last one was the worst and the first one was the best, but you might think otherwise.
  • by sbaker ( 47485 ) * on Thursday October 19, 2006 @12:10AM (#16496865) Homepage
    Wasn't there also talk about ice in deep craters situated where the sun can never shine on it?

    The theory was (and I hope I have this right) that cometary ice must impact the moon from time to time - so there is water there from time to time - but whenever the sun shines, in the absence of an atmosphere, the water will evaporate (sublimate?) away quite quickly during the lunar day - then freeze out of the atmosphere during the night.

    This mechanism would generally keep whatever water molecules there is up there moving around...*UNTIL* (by chance) it lands somewhere where there is never any sunlight - inside a cave or a deep crater. At that point it must settle - and there is no longer a mechanism to move it around again. With no atmosphere to scatter sunlight, permenantly dark places will be profoundly cold.

    It follows then that whatever water there is will always end up in these relatively rare places EVENTUALLY - so given enough time, all of the moon's water would end up stashed away in just a few easy-to-predict places.

    Furthermore, we'd never be able to see those places from earth-bound or low orbit telescopes because any place we can see must also collect sunlight at some point in the lunar orbit. ...at least that's what I recall. It sounds kinda plausible.
  • by iMySti ( 863056 ) on Thursday October 19, 2006 @12:11AM (#16496871)
    The real question is what percent of that dust is cheese!?
  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Thursday October 19, 2006 @12:34AM (#16497045) Homepage Journal
    Gold is economical to extract from ore that has less than one ounce of gold per ton.

    Water is going to be more valuable than gold to someone on the Moon.

    Water is way easy to extract.
    • lets ask Kevin Costner, he'd know what to do.
    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      Water is going to be more valuable than gold to someone on the Moon.

      No, it's not--because, at present, there is no sound economic reason to go to the moon or stay there. And water is only valuable THERE. Barring a new space race, a desperate last effort by NASA to justify its budget, or a space tourism boom; it's unlikely that we will ever send men back to the moon even on a temporary basis, much less in long-term colonies

      -Eric

    • by raduf ( 307723 )
      It's economical to extract as in (the cost of processing a ton of ore) > (the price of an ounce)
      Thing is, the processing costs are WAY up on the moon.
    • Gold is economical to extract from ore that has less than one ounce of gold per ton.

      Ever see the sheer size and mass of the equipment for that?

      Water is going to be more valuable than gold to someone on the Moon.

      Not really. You'd be suprised at how well we can recycle water. Separation of greywater from blackwater combined with greywater reuse and reclamation (wetlands, plant growth, dish tanks) allow not only water re-use but reuse of the material we normally waste - nitrogen for example. It also dramatical
  • No ice? Deliver it. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Thursday October 19, 2006 @12:54AM (#16497223) Journal
    It'd be a real bummer if this research proves true, because having water readily available on the moon would be a help in our (looong-term) future plans.

    But, that doesn't mean that there can't be a whole lot of ice there someday. In the future, about the time when interplanetary travel becomes feasible and large quantities of water are needed, we will also have the technology to go out and capture water. One of the great motivations for interplanetary travel is mining asteroids for their abundant mineral wealth. Some consider capturing and towing an asteroid into Earth orbit for better availability. Why not capture and tow a water-rich comet, too? If there are grave concerns about it hitting the earth, just bring it very slowly towards the moon and orbit it there. It would be easily accessible there from the moon and from spacecraft, much higher in Earth's gravity well than LEO.

    This is hardly a new idea - I think Arthur Clarke was a big proponent of it. I'm not advocating that we try it out in the next few years, either - I'm just saying that getting water to the moon, by the time we need lots of it, isn't that farfetched.
    • by craagz ( 965952 )
      Water will cost $100000 a drip when that is done..albeit with current technology.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      It'd be a real bummer if this research proves true, because having water readily available on the moon would be a help in our (looong-term) future plans.

      Thomas Gold [wikipedia.org] used radar studies to show that the surface of the moon was made entirely of soft dust which an astronaut would sink right through. And he was right. The top millimetre of the moon (which is all the radar could see) really is like that.

      A highly oblique illumination of the lunar south pole from 4000000km away can not prove that there is no ice

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by smoker2 ( 750216 )
      Now, I'm no rocket scientist (no sh1t sherlock), but orbiting a captured comet has one big problem, that I can see.

      As comets approach the sun, they develop a tail, caused by the solar wind. If you keep a comet "tethered" in orbit around the earth, it is going to be constantly eroded by the solar wind, and the earth will be bombarded by the crap falling off whenever we are "downwind" of it.

      If it was in orbit around the moon, the same would happen, which may or may not be a useful way to get the comets conte

    • Screw the moon, deliver it to Australia, how many years have we been in drought now?
  • A lot of the dialogue thus far has centered around either the "who cares" mentality, or "yada yada yada...just scientists theorizing and refuting each other over time". One of the posts that was actually nearer the mark mentioned that as technology gets better, so to do our means of verifying and refuting existing theories on possible resources for further exploration. Say we stopped doing research based on the presumptions of 20 years ago and spent trillions to get all the supplies up to the Southern Pol
  • The moon has no ice!? It's like some outer space motel 6! *ducks*
    • No ice on moon.
      Carry your own ice to chill yur beer if u r 'Man on the Moon' :)) :))
                                                              sitcom laugh track----^
  • The team found that a particular radar signature called the circular polarisation ratio - which in the Clementine experiment was taken to indicate thick deposits of ice - could also be created by echoes from the rough terrain and walls of impact craters.

    So all this proves is that the Clementine experiment may not have detected ice after all. There is nothing in this experiment which would have directly measured ice if it had been present.

  • That's too bad. I guess the astronaouts will have to drink their cocktails luke warm.
  • something our exploration of it could take advantage of

    Jesus Tap-Dancing Christ.
  • So my favorite Total Recall movie was all trash after all ?
  • ...BEER DON'T NEED NO ICE!
  • Or didn't they? Legend tells us that about 13 people have been on and around the moon. What did they see? Don't they have samples?
  • My first reaction to the "no-ice" announcement was actually joy. I'm a science nut, but I can just envision the hordes of humans that might've otherwise arrived and wasted any handy resources for tourists and the like. I don't want to see a corporate logo appear on the moon's face, for instance.

    I hope we don't infect the rest of the solar system until we're more responsible. This could mean just being good stewards of "our" own planet before we hope to know what to do with others.

    Not a Luddite; robotic expl
  • by Ingolfke ( 515826 ) on Thursday October 19, 2006 @11:26AM (#16502081) Journal
    I want to head off an possible confusion. This new information has absolutely no bearing on the development of carbon-nanotube teather to be used for a space elevator. That project is still completely and totally ridiculous psuedo-science deserving of our scorn and mockery. Please do not be confused.
  • by GrassSnake ( 228479 ) on Thursday October 19, 2006 @11:36AM (#16502253)
    This study does *not* indicate that there is no ice in permanently shadowed areas of the Moon. Before this study came out, there were two widely cited lines of evidence for ice:

    1) Lunar Prospector found elevated hydrogen near the poles using a neutron spectrometer
    2) Clementine bi-static radar (and later ground-based measurements) found backscatter effects that looked like ice

    Most planetary geologists weighted (1) more heavily. There was always a lot of argument about interpretation of (2).

    Now this study comes along and fairly definitively throws out (2) by showing the data has another explanation. Fine. From (1) we still have solid evidence of hydrogen near the poles, and most geologists would agree that the likeliest explanation of that hydrogen is water ice deposits in permanently dark crater interiors (the only places cold enough for ice to be stable in a vacuum).

    So the main impact of this study is to suggest (but not prove) that ice, if present, is not found in clumps of centimeter scale or larger. And the 1% concentration figure they cite is a *lower* bound, not an upper bound. That is, ice could be more concentrated than 1% in some regions below neutron spectrometer resolution (e.g. kilometer scale) and we would have no way to know.

  • Global Warming has taken out the moon's polar ice caps too!
  • I believe the whole ice one the Moon thing was mostly hyped up by the media. I think that few in the scientific community actually _expected_ to find it (though most would agree it's worth looking, and would _hope_ to find it). While you could certainly keep the ice around in sheltered craters at the poles, actually _delivering_ it is a bit trickier. You could hit it with comets, but that mateial would vaporize on impact and mostly be lost.

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