There is water on the moon, Professor of Geology Peter Schultz can now say with certainty.
Schultz and a team of fellow scientists announced the finding Nov. 13 after poring over data from a NASA mission that made international headlines. On Oct. 9, with telescopes worldwide pointed skyward, a NASA spacecraft carrying instruments developed by Schultz sent a projectile crashing into the moon, producing a plume of debris that could be analyzed for signs of water.
But until recently, researchers had not determined if the debris indicated a significant presence of water on the moon.
Though analysis is far from complete, researchers have identified 26 gallons of water among the debris, Schultz told The Herald in a phone interview late last week.
The information "is just evolving," he said. "This isn't instant science."
The October collision created a hole about 60 to 100 feet wide in the permanently shadowed region of a crater near the moon's south pole, said Brendan Hermalyn, a graduate student in planetary sciences who works with Schultz. A second, smaller spacecraft lagged behind to measure the debris created from the crash.
Brown geologists have made several breakthroughs in the search for lunar water recently, according to Professor of Geology James Head.
Professor of Geology Carle Pieters, working with the nascent Indian space program, made headlines when her research team detected evidence of ice on the moon's surface with a scanning device earlier this year. And Associate Professor of Geology Alberto Saal "found water in lunar volcanic glasses" last year, Head said.
But Schultz's discovery stands out because it confirms the presence of water below the surface of the moon, Head said. The discover suggests the possibility of a previously unknown treasure trove of lunar ice.
"On the moon, ice is worth more than gold," wrote Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at City College of New York, wrote in an op ed for the Wall Street Journal
According to Kaku, the discovery was well worth the cost of the mission. "Imagine Neil Armstrong made of solid gold. Now multiply that five to 10 times, and you understand how much it costs to put anything on the moon," he wrote. Because the moon lacks vital resources, such as air, soil or plants, the discovery of water is significant for future lunar explorations, he added.
The presence of water on the moon has the potential to make future lunar missions much less costly, Hermalyn said. It provides possibilities "not only for being able to put people on the moon for much cheaper, but also for bringing material back to Earth," he said, noting that the water can be broken down to create additional resources, such as fuel from hydrogen.
"It's extremely exciting to be a part of this," he said.
Hermalyn was among those responsible for helping to analyze the images from the crash. "We tend to think of pictures as static things, but in science we look at pictures as data," he said.
Both Schultz and Hermalyn attended the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group conference at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston last week to discuss strategies for establishing permanent settlement on the moon, Schultz said.
"These discoveries have completely changed the perception of the Moon as a very dry planet and it forces us to go back and rethink our understanding of the sources of water and the processes that are responsible for its transport and storage."
An article in yesterday's paper ("Brown scientists over the moon for lunar water find," Nov. 23) quoted Professor of Geology James Head as saying that Associate Professor of Geology Alberto Saal "found water in lunar volcanic gases." In fact, Saal discovered water in lunar volcanic glasses, not gases.