Lunar meteorite suggests there could be water on the moon

A meteorite from the moon suggests that there is water on Earth’s natural satellite.

A lunar meteorite uncovered in Africa 13 years ago may hold a mineral that only forms in the presence of water, according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.

The space rock — known as meteorite NWA2727 — is important because it is seemingly hard evidence that there is in fact water on or below the surface of the moon.

To make this discovery, scientists from Tohoku University analyzed the meteorite and found that it contained the substance moganite. As the mineral only forms in the presence of water, and as the meteorite landed in a desert, there must be some frozen liquid on the moon.

Moganite is commonly found within the cracks of rocks and appears through brecciation, where older rocks form a large mass. However, that process can only happen in the presence of water.

“For the first time, we can prove that there is water ice in the lunar material,” lead author Masahiro Kayama, a researcher at Tohoku University told “In a moganite, there is less water, because moganite forms from the evaporation of water. That’s the case on the surface of the moon. But in the subsurface, much water remains as ice, because it’s protected from the sunlight.”

Though the team is not sure, they believe the water on the moon likely got there from asteroids and comets some three billion years ago. From there, they postulate the liquid became trapped in the surface and cooled. Then, another rock hit the moon and sent the water-filled rocks down to Earth.

The presence of moganite from a meteor that landed in a desert does suggest water on the moon, but it is not definitive evidence. Further missions need to collect samples from the lunar surface. It may also help to look back at older missions as well.

“It also highlights the need to study Apollo samples with modern analytical techniques,” said Noah Petro, a lunar geologist with NASA who was not involved in the research, according to Gizmodo.

In addition, scientists are not sure where water would sit on the moon or how much exists. Even if they do find water, nobody is sure how they would manage to extract or use it.

Moon may have been habitable twice in ancient past

Release of volatile gases and volcanic activity could have produced a lunar atmosphere and liquid water on the Moon’s surface.

The Moon may have been habitable for life during two separate periods in its ancient past, according to a study led by Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Washington State University (WSU).

Based on analyses of lunar rocks and data returned by various space missions, Schulze-Makuch’s research team believes the Moon may contain more water ice than scientists suspect, including possible water ice beneath its surface.

While the Moon is currently dusty and lifeless, it may have been habitable for two windows in the past, one four billion years ago, and the other 3.5 billion years ago, the researchers propose.

As it was forming four billion years ago, the Moon released massive amounts of volatile gases, including water vapor. Three-and-a-half billion years ago, the Moon was volcanically active.

Under both of these conditions, the volatile gases could have created a thick atmosphere that endured for several million years as well as pools of liquid water on the lunar surface.

The researchers theorize the ancient Moon also had a magnetic field that would have shielded any life present from solar radiation.

“There could have actually been microbes thriving in water pools on the Moon until the surface became dry and dead,” Schulze-Makuch said.

Today, the Moon has a very weak magnetic field and a very thin atmosphere composed of gases such as sodium and potassium.

Earth’s earliest life, cyanobacteria began sometime between 3.5 and 3.8 billion years ago. The ingredients needed by these single-celled organisms, which generate oxygen through photosynthesis, as well water and the organisms themselves, could have been brought to the Moon, as they were brought to the Earth, by meteorites.

Meteorite impacts were common in the violent early years of the solar system. It is possible that cyanobacteria-containing meteorites thrown off Earth’s surface during impacts could have delivered these microbes to the Moon.

“If liquid water and a significant atmosphere were present on the early Moon for long periods of time, we think the lunar surface would have been at least transiently habitable,” Schulze-Makuch stated.

Future searches for signs of ancient microbial life on the Moon could focus on obtaining samples from the areas known to have had the most volcanic activity 3.5 billion years ago, with the aim of finding water and/or fossils.

A paper on the researchers’ findings has been published in the journal Astrobiology.


Long lunar eclipse coincides with Mars opposition

Event will be streamed live online for those in areas where eclipse won’t be visible.

In an unusual astronomical coincidence, the 21st century’s longest total lunar eclipse will occur on the same night as Mars’s opposition, and both reddish objects will appear in the same part of the sky.

A planet is described as being in opposition when it and the Earth are on opposite sides of the Sun.  Full Moons occur when the Moon is in opposition to the Earth. Objects in opposition rise at sunset and remain visible all night, then set at sunrise.

This particular Mars opposition is occurring when the Red Planet is closest to the Earth, so Mars will be at its largest apparent size when viewed through a telescope and will also be significantly brighter than usual.

Both the lunar eclipse and the Mars opposition will occur on Friday, July 27. Just four days later, Mars will be closest to the Earth, at a distance of 35.8 million miles (57.6 million km). An opposition in which a planet is also at its closest point to the Sun is known as a “perhihelic opposition.”

Because the Red Planet has an elliptical orbit, its distance from Earth ranges from a minimum of 34.6 million miles (55.8 million km) to a maximum of 140 million miles (225 million km). In 2003, the two planets came within 34.6 million miles of each other, the closest they had been in 60,000 years.

Friday’s total lunar eclipse will be visible to observers in Africa, the Middle East, southern Asia, Europe, South America, and Australia. Its total phase, during which the Moon appears red or orange, will last an hour and 43 minutes. From beginning to end, including the partial phases, the entire eclipse will last for almost four hours.

The Moon’s reddish color during the total phase of an eclipse is caused by the scattering of sunlight through Earth’s atmosphere. Because the atmosphere does more scattering of shorter light wavelengths, such as green and blue, longer wavelengths, such as red, become most visible.

During this particular eclipse, the Moon will travel through the center of Earth’s umbra, the darkest part of its shadow. It will also be at apogee, the furthest point in its orbit from the Earth, and will therefore take longer to pass through Earth’s shadow. These two phenomena are the reasons why this eclipse will be so long.

Although the eclipse will not be visible from North America, it will be livestreamed online by the website Time and Date Live, Slooh, and

Slooh will also host a live cast on the Mars opposition on Thursday night, July 26. Unlike the lunar eclipse, Mars, like the ordinary full Moon, will be visible all night everywhere in the world barring obscuration by clouds.

Spanish telescope images meteorites impacting the Moon

Brief “flashes” caused by impacts on the Moon have been seen for at least 1,000 years.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has released images of two meteorites impacting the Moon in mid-July, captured by the Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System (MIDAS) installed on three separate telescopes in Spain.

Equipped with high-resolution CCD video cameras, the lunar observing system was built to record the brief flashes, known as “transient lunar phenomena,” produced when meteorites hit the Moon.

“For at least a thousand years, people have claimed to witness short-lived phenomena occurring on the face of the Moon. By definition, these transient flashes are hard to study, and determining their cause remains a challenge,” the ESA noted in a public statement.

“For this reason, scientists are studying these ‘transient lunar phenomena’ with great interest, not only for what they can tell us about the Moon and its history, but also about Earth and its future.”

The meteorites that hit the Moon on July 17 and 18, less than 24 hours apart, were likely pieces of the Alpha Capricornids summer meteor shower, which originates from the tail of Comet 169P/NEAT, the ESA statement reported.

Each of the parent meteoroids were no larger than an average walnut, scientists estimate.

Studying meteorite impacts on the Moon helps scientists better understand such impacts on objects throughout the solar system.

“By studying meteoroids on the Moon, we can determine how many rocks impact it and how often, and from this, we can infer the chance of impacts on Earth,” said MIDAS member and meteorite specialist Jose Maria Madiedo of the University of Huelva in Spain.

“At MIDAS, we observe impacts on the ‘dark side’ of the Moon, meaning impact flashes stand out against the dark lunar ground.”

The Moon’s “dark side” is any lunar region not lit by the Sun at a given time and should be distinguished from its “far side,” which perpetually faces away from the Earth.

Video footage of both impacts is available for viewing on the ESA website.

NASA hopes to return astronauts to the Moon in ten years

Plan calls for lunar space station to be crewed by 2024.

NASA is planning to send astronauts to a space station in lunar orbit by 2024 and return them to the surface of the Moon within 10 years.

These goals were announced on Monday, August 27, during a NASA presentation on the proposed lunar space station dubbed the Deep Space Gateway, which will be designed as an outpost for astronauts who will eventually travel into deep space.

Gateway’s features will include a habitat module for astronauts, a module to generate power and propulsion, and an airlock space vehicles can use to dock at the space station.

Like the International Space Station (ISS), Gateway will also serve as a site for science research.

While NASA hopes to build the power module through a partnership with a private company, no contracts for its construction have yet been awarded.  The space agency hopes to launch this module by 2022.

The power module will be launched on a commercial rocket while the habitat module will launch on NASA’s new large rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which will undergo its first flight, Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), carrying an un-crewed Orion capsule around the Moon.

A second SLS mission, EM-2, is scheduled to carry astronauts around the Moon on the Orion capsule in 2022.

Following a third SLS launch, this time of a robotic mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, NASA plans to launch the habitat module along with astronauts into lunar orbit on EM-3 in 2024. This launch will require a more powerful version of SLS, whose development is still in its early stages.

Last week, Vice President Mike Pence, in a speech at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, announced the goal of sending astronauts to Gateway before the end of President Donald Trump’s possible second term. That milestone will be followed by human landings on the Moon, possibly as soon as 2026.

Returning astronauts to the Moon will require construction of a lander that can carry them from Gateway to the lunar surface and back again. NASA plans to accomplish this in a partnership with private aerospace companies, starting with robotic landers and working up to crewed landers.

Meeting these goals will require development of much new technology and avoidance of the delays that have plagued the SLS program over the last few years.


Moon’s north and south poles contain water ice

New study of data collected a decade ago confirms signatures of water ice on the Moon’s poles.

An analysis of data collected by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) has found compelling evidence for water ice on the Moon’s north and south poles.

Led by Shuai Li of both the University of Hawaii and Brown University, and by Richard Elphic of NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, a team of scientists discovered three specific signatures of water ice in the reflectance spectra collected by M3.

Launched with India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft in 2008, M3 successfully detected the reflective properties of water ice on surfaces in the Moon’s polar regions and also directly measured the method by which the water molecules absorb infrared light. The latter enables scientists to determine whether water discovered is in a solid, liquid, or gaseous state.

M3 studied the lunar surface between November 2008 and August 2009.

“Previous observations indirectly found possible signs of surface ice at the lunar south pole, but these could have been explained by other phenomena, such as unusually reflective lunar soil,” a NASA statement noted.

Signatures of water ice found in the new study are located within 20 degrees of the Moon’s north and south poles, regions that are among the lunar surface’s coldest and darkest locations.

More ice is present in the south polar region, mostly at the bottom of craters that are perpetually in shadow. In the north polar region, the water ice is thinner and more scattered.

Temperatures at the bottom of craters that never receive sunlight never exceed minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit, due to the Moon’s very small axial tilt.

While the Moon’s surface has significantly less water ice than the surfaces of Mercury or Ceres, the water ice it does have is a valuable resource for future human exploration and even colonization.

“With enough ice sitting at the surface–within the top few millimeters–water would possibly be accessible as a resource for future expeditions to explore and even stay on the Moon, and potentially easier to access than the water detected beneath the Moon’s surface,” the NASA statement indicated.

Findings of the study have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Water ice confirmed on moon for first time

Astronomers have finally confirmed the presence of water ice on the surface of the moon.

For the first time in history astronomers have found definitive evidence of water-ice on the moon’s surface, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers have long speculated that Earth’s natural satellite has ice on its surface. However, this is the first official confirmation. The frozen liquid sits at the north and south poles and is likely ancient, BBC News reports.

To find the ice, a team of international astronomers analyzed data gathered by India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. That showed the distribution is quite scattered. Most of the ice at the lunar south pole is in craters, and at the north pole it is much more widespread.

Those findings come from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument aboard Chandrayaan, which identified three specific water-ice signatures on the moon.

Not only did it get the tell-tale reflective properties associated with ice, but it also measured the way its molecules absorb infrared light. That is important because it shows the substance is solid and not vapor.

“The abundance and distribution of ice on the Moon are distinct from those on other airless bodies in the inner solar system such as Mercury and Ceres, which may be associated with the unique formation and evolution process of our Moon,” wrote the researchers, according to Fox News.

Though the moon is quite hot during the day, ice can exist because, as the axis tilts, parts of the body never see sunlight.

The new finding supports past evidence that suggested the presence of surface ice at the Moon’s south pole. That is important because, if there is a substantial amount of ice, astronauts could one day harvest it during space missions. It may even help foster a future lunar base, and it could potentially be turned into hydrogen for rocket fuel as well.

NASA plans Moon-orbiting space station by mid-2020s

Project will be a joint effort with commercial spaceflight companies.

NASA hopes to place a small crewed space station in lunar orbit by the mid-2020s, as part of its effort to return astronauts to the Moon.

Titled The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, the project will be built in a collaborative effort between the space agency and commercial companies, such as Moon Express.

One of five contenders for the now-canceled Google Lunar X Prize, Moon Express was founded in 2010 to mine lunar resources. Since then, it has focused on lowering costs for un-crewed lunar missions.

“What happened to the commercial launch industry is about to happen to the commercial lunar industry,” Moon Express CEO Bob Richards told USA Today. “I think there are very strong analogies between the two.”

Together with Moon Express, NASA hopes to land robotic spacecraft with scientific instruments on the Moon as soon as next year.

Astronauts on the new space station will not be able to land on the Moon until a lander is constructed. This could be done by other countries’ space agencies or by commercial companies, such as SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Michele Gates, director of Gateway’s power and propulsion program, said NASA is seeking input on design and construction of the space station from private spaceflight companies.

The power and propulsion program could also lead to better, high-rate communication between Earth and astronauts in deep space.

“We believe partnering with US industry for the power and propulsion element will stimulate advancements in commercial use of solar electric propulsion and also serve NASA exploration objectives. Our goal here is to gain input from industry on the draft solicitation to enable release of the final later this summer.

Several factors are driving the impetus to return to the Moon, including President Donald Trump’s stated desire to land astronauts there, the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, and the discovery of water sources on the lunar surface.

Having access to water would be a major boon to a space station, which could use it for everything from drinking water to rocket fuel.

Long-term goals for Gateway include not just exploration of the Moon but also of Mars, according to a NASA statement.

“Since the directive was issued in December to return to the Moon, the agency has been moving full-steam ahead with plans for robotic and human lunar exploration,” stated Jason Crusan, director of Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC.

Astronomers discover 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter

The discovery provides insight into why the Jupiter system looks the way it does.

Astronomers have uncovered ten more moons orbiting around Jupiter, bringing the planet’s total satellite count to 79, reports Loren Grush for The Verge. Astronomers at Carnegie Institution for Science found these moons in March 2017 using the Blanco 4-meter telescope in Chile. Since the discovery, the moons have been observed multiple times and their exact orbits have been submitted for approval from the International Astronomical Union.

The moons are fairly small and break down into three different types. Two orbit closer to Jupiter, moving in the same direction the planet spins. Nine are about 15.5 million miles from the planet and revolve in the opposite direction, moving against Jupiter’s rotation. In this region, one of the moon’s that astronomer’s call Valetudo is moving with Jupiter’s spin, going in the opposite direction of all the other moons in the same area. “It’s basically driving down the highway in the wrong direction,” Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at Carnegie who led the discovery team, told The Verge. “That’s a very unstable situation. Head-on collisions are likely to happen in that situation.”

With this discovery, scientists believe it’s evidence that moon-on-moon collisions have happened in Jupiter’s past. Astronomers argue that the nine moons moving in the same direction far out from Jupiter, may actually be pieces of a bigger moon that existed long ago. Sheppard agrees, explaining “[w]e think, originally, there were three parent bodies, and, somehow, each of those parent bodies got broken apart. And a big question is: what broke those objects apart?” Valetudo provides a plausible explanation: with it going in opposition to other moons in the area, numerous head-on collisions likely occurred, reducing these celestial bodies to the small sizes observed today.

Israel plans un-crewed Moon landing in 2019

Small, light craft scheduled for December launch on SpaceX rocket.

An Israeli non-profit organization, working in conjunction with a government-owned space corporation, plans to put a robotic lander on the Moon on February 13, 2019.

The joint project by SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) was initially intended for the Google Lunar X Prize competition, which Google ended March 31 with no winner after five teams experienced repeated launch delays, largely due to lack of funds.

Google had offered a $20 million prize to the first non-profit, privately-funded group to land a craft on the Moon, have it travel a minimum of 1,650 feet, and send high-definition photos and videos of the event back to Earth.

Like several of its competitors, including American teams Moon Express and Astrobotic, SpaceIL decided to continue pursuing the project without the prize. The non-profit has raised about $88 million in investments, largely from private donors, to develop and build its spacecraft.

Current plans call for SpaceIL’s lander to launch as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in December.

After launch, the lander will first enter into an elliptical orbit around the Earth. Once there, mission control will command it to raise itself to a much higher Earth orbit, also elliptical. From this location, it will approach the Moon, igniting its engines to enter lunar orbit before touching down on the lunar surface.

All of these tasks will be carried out autonomously through the lander’s navigation control system.

Weighing just 1,322 pounds (600 kilograms), the lander will be the lightest and smallest spacecraft to land on the Moon. If the landing is successful, the lander will follow up by using a magnetometer to measure the Moon’s magnetic field as well as take photos and videos.

Should the mission succeed, it will make Israel the fourth country to land a vehicle on the Moon’s surface, following Russia, the United States, and China.

Representatives of SpaceIL hope the project will inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math, much like the Apollo program did during the 1960s and 1970s.