You've probably already heard the big space news this week: water on the Moon. And not just traces, but seemingly quite a bit of water all over its polar regions. NASAs Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was supposed to perform a series of searches for ice in August in tandem with the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan-1 orbiter using Miniature Radio Frequency instruments. The challenging task required the orbiters to transmit signals to the exact spot on the Moon from their different locations in the sky, which would send back detailed information about the surface. Unfortunately, they were only able to try once, which failed, before the ISRO lost all contact with their orbiter in early September.
Last Thursday the LRO team gave the first indication that the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND) seemed to be finding areas with hydrogen and oxygen, but it was on Tuesday that they came out with the word: confirmed. In the journal Science, scientists confirmed on Tuesday that LRO's detailed thermal mapping of the Moon's surface has discovered incredibly cold areas, and along with LEND's findings of oddly varying levels of hydrogen in different pockets along the poles and, finally, a radar tuned to search for chunks of ice, all shows an as yet unknown story of water's existance on the Moon.
As we know, the real fun will happen on October 9, when LCROSS plows into the Moon's surface, with everyone's fingers crossed that chunks of ice fly up when it does. This Saturday is a crucial day, in fact. While NASA already announced a couple weeks ago that LCROSS's impact site would be Cabeaus A, they're second-guessing that decision after radar singals for ice are coming back weak. Saturday is the drop-dead date for a new site, if they decide to change it.
Nature Magazine has an interesting article about scientist Faith Vilas, who belived she found evidence of water on the Moon over 10 years ago, but whose research has been soundly rejected for years -- until now. With her vindication come all kinds of new questions: how did the water get there? Has this discovery made it more critical that we send humans back there?
NASA will hold a press briefing at 2 p.m. EDT today to discuss the findings; watch on NASA TV.