30 May 2012

Luna-24 was the last Soviet mission to the moon.  It returned to Earth with water-rich rock samples from beneath the lunar surface only to be ignored by the West.  New research uncovers this story from obscurity.

Watery Evidence

For years the idea of water on the moon has excited science fiction fans and scientists alike.  It was always believed in the past that the moon was dry.  But in recent years evidence of the existence of water began to mount starting with the Clementine mission in 1994.  Clementine was America's first return to the moon in twenty years.


Clementine used radio waves to detect water ice beneath the surface.

Following the success of that mission came the Lunar Prospector which detected water using by measuring neutrons emitted from the surface, which water should absorb.

Galileo also found evidence of water and then the Indian spacecraft Chandrayaan-I in 2009.

Uncovering a Hidden Story

One would think that given the massive amounts of samples brought back from the Apollo missions that this water mystery would have been solved long ago but it took many years to solve.  Arlin Crotts, a professor in the Department of Astronomy of Columbia University in New York City wrote three articles about water on the moon and how it got there.

Crotts believes the Apollo samples were contaminated.  He thinks the containers used to carry them could not be tightly closed because of lunar dust clogging the seals.  Therefore if water were found in these rocks it originated here.

Crotts discovered that the Soviets found evidence of water in the 1970s, in particular the Luna-24 sample-return mission.  During this mission the Soviets drilled 2 meters into the lunar surface and extracted 300 grams of rock then returned to Earth.  This was an impressive feat for its time.

Analysis showed the rock was made up of 0.1 percent water.  This result was published in 1978 to the Russian journal Geokhimiia.  There was an English version but wasn't widely read in the West.

A Shift in Thinking

Despite the Soviets efforts the work done with Luna-24 was largely forgotten.  No other author ever cited their work.

Flash forward to today and we have completely changed our view of the dry moon into that of a moon that contains about 1 part per billion water according to Crotts.

Had people taken the Soviet's work more seriously these changes in thinking would have taken less time to develop.

Source:  TechnologyReview.com


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