The uncertainty of science: A new science paper, published Saturday in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Planets,, has found that there is much less water ice trapped in the permanently shadowed craters of the lunar poles than previously thought. From the abstract:
This means that all [permanently shadowed regions], except those in Shoemaker, Cabeus and Rozhdestvensky U craters, do not contain any significant amount of hydrogen in comparison with sunlit areas around them at the same latitude.
And from the paper’s conclusion:
[E]ven now the data is enough for definite conclusion that [permanently shadowed regions] at both poles are not reservoirs of large deposits of water ice.
While this news might seem discouraging, the data still found three craters with strong evidence of water-ice, including Cabeus crater, which has already been independently confirmed to have water by the Deep Impact probe. This data means that future explorers now have a much better idea of where to go to get that water.
This is very valuable information. In the private sector, it would be considered proprietary and kept secret until the company that discovered it could stake a claim and begin reaping the rewards for their research. Since Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is a NASA government probe, however, the result is released for everyone to read. And since NASA doesn’t have any plans to return to the Moon, this is the equivalent of that oil or gas company locating a reserve of fossil fuel and announcing it to the world so that their competitors could jump in and grab it.
These results also tell us that LCROSS in 2009 was very lucky in its choice of impact points. Had they picked any one of the majority of other candidate impact craters, they would have likely detected no water, and thus come up with a null result. Instead, they happened to pick one of only three craters that appear to really have frozen water buried in the crater’s permanently shadowed floor, and thus, they found evidence of water on the Moon. What the new data tells us is that this water is much rarer than the LCROSS result has suggested.