AMSTERDAM – Man's return to the moon, as well as ongoing robotic missions, may require the use of resources already on the moon's surface. The lunar south pole is of particular interest because of ice deposits in craters there.
Unfortunately, India's lunar mission Chandrayaan-2 lost communication while trying to soft land a rover on the southern pole of the moon. But NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has circled the moon since 2009 and mapped the South Pole region.
Scientists want to understand how ice layers were originally formed in the craters. Since the moon has no atmosphere, it is constantly affected by objects such as meteorites and micrometeorites. This helps researchers understand the lunar history and identify resources for future missions.
A new study identifying the ages of the ice deposits that was published Thursday in Icarus magazine. The researchers used Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter data to determine that many of the deposits are billions of years old, for some of them newer.
"The age of these deposits can potentially tell us something about the origin of ice, which helps us understand the sources and distribution of water in the inner solar system," said Ariel Deutsch, a study author and research student at Brown University's Earth, Environment Department ̵
Scientists can calculate the age of ice by identifying the age of the craters themselves. Older, large craters will contain smaller craters on the inside, leaving clues for researchers to determine how many effects have occurred since the larger hit that created the initial crater.
Many of the great craters were created about 3.1 billion years ago, or possibly older. This means that the ice is just a little younger than that. In some craters the ice is uneven because it has been affected by other debris over time.
"There have been models of bombing through time that show that ice is starting to concentrate with depth," Deutsch said. "So if you have an outer layer that is old, you can expect more underneath."
The older ice probably came from comets and asteroids that carried water with them when they hit the lunar surface.
Smaller craters also contained ice. These craters were more well defined and looked much fresher, which suggests that the craters and ice are younger, the researchers say.
"It was a surprise," Deutsch said. "There hadn't really been any sightings of ice in younger cold traps before."
The small craters were probably formed by micrometeorites. Future assignments can take a closer look at these craters and determine more information.
"As we consider sending people back to the moon for long-term exploration, we must know what resources are there that we can count on, and we do not currently know," Head said. "Studies like this help us make predictions about where we need to go to answer these questions."
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