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LCROSS mission to make major announcement

November 12, 2009 7:16:20 PM PST
When NASA's Lunar Crater Observing and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission crashed into Cabeus Crater on the moon's south pole, October 9th, the team did find water in the form of, "Ice as we know it," according to multiple sources within the agency. "It will change the way we think about the moon. It is something we want to share with the world."

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Exactly how much ice the team found remains a matter of debate. Some scientists believe the crashing booster's impact ejection plume revealed the presence of ice chunks, while others think it was more spread out, or crystallized in the soil. They continue to analyze the data. Either way, "If you were standing there, it would look different than the rest of the surface," said one source, who would not elaborate.

NASA had planned to reveal the findings at a meeting of lunar scientists, next week, but moved the preliminary announcement to Friday, at NASA-Ames Research Center in Mountain View, partly for fear of leaks. "This is big news. They need to control it."

The presence of lunar water is not new. Last September, planetary geologist Carle Pieters of Brown University announced water in very small quantities. Even then, the surface would be dryer than any desert on Earth.

But, hard ice, deep in dark polar craters could be a game changer. To land a mere kilogram on the moon would cost $100,000. Now, that may not be necessary.

"There could be as much ice on the moon as in all of Lake Erie," LCROSS principle investigator Anthony Colaprete said before the impact. "If water exists on the moon in large quantities, the moon becomes a more sustainable environment for habitation, or making rocket fuel for deeper space explorations."

Colaprete and his team had been a source of jokes after the impact. The public expected to see a large, visible plume, as overly depicted in NASA animations. People stayed up late or rose early to watch the show, but were disappointed.

Not Colaprete. "The dimmer the ejecta cloud, the more likely that we found water," he said on October 8th, one day before the impact. "If we were to land in totally dry dirt, all the energy would go into heating, and more light. If we find water ice, that energy sublimes into water vapor. The temperature would be lower, and so the plume would be dimmer."

Sound familiar? Colaprete believed that with a strong signal, his team would know immediately, and reflected that possibility after impact, October 9th. "I am excited. We saw variations in the spectra. It means we saw something."

"Does that mean you will know by this afternoon?" asked a reporter.

"I probably will, but I won't tell you," said Colaprete at the time.

On Friday, apparently, we find out.

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