No sooner does NASA discover a crater filled with what is quite possibly tons of ice in the bottom of a crater on the moon’s version of Antarctica, than people start talking about how to mine it.
Filmmaker James Cameron wants to mine asteroids. Newt Gingrich wants to colonize the moon. Now the discovery of possible ice deposits deep in a crater on the moon’s underside is generating talk of mining Earth’s faithful companion for water.
The crater is more than 12 miles wide and two miles deep, which is about the depth of Mother Earth’s oceans, according to Space.com. Because of its proximity to the moon’s south pole, it has been named the Shackleton Crater after the European explorer who first trekked the corresponding point on Earth.
The space agency’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was able to obtain the most detailed maps to date of the Shackleton crater by flooding its interior with infrared laser light, Space.com reported. They used that to measure how reflective it was and found the crater floor to be more reflective than that of other nearby craters, suggesting it had ice. The results were published in the journal Nature on June 21.
"Water ice in amounts of up to 20 percent is a viable possibility," said the lead author of the study, MIT geophysicist Maria Zuber, to Space.com.
If so, the perpetually dark crater, never kissed by the sun, could be something of a "lunar freezer,” a potential water supply for a lunar base, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"Frozen water in particular could be a resource for future human explorers," Ashwin R. Vasavada, a planetary scientist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, told the Los Angeles Times. "These super-cold places would be expected to trap water and other molecules that wander by, like frost collecting on your roof on a cold morning."
But would-be moon miners are being cautioned not to whip out their equipment just yet. The ice is far from a sure thing.
"The discoveries ... show us that the temperatures are right, and the surfaces are bright as if covered by frost," Vasavada told the Times. "But we can't say for sure that abundant ice is present.”