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NASA’s Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter team released early maps from the spacecraft’s commissioning phase yesterday. Diviner, one of seven instruments aboard the spacecraft, measured surface temperatures as low as -238 Celsius, lower than the surface of Pluto according to the Associated Press and Daily Telegraph. The presence of such permanently cold spots “greatly increases the likelihood that water or other compounds are frozen there.”
Also exciting was the tentative finding that “hydrogen is not confined to permanently shadowed craters,” according to Project Scientist Richard Vondrak (CNET). The extent and accessibility of hydrogen on the Moon will shape future manned lunar missions because astronauts might use hydrogen to create water, rather than bringing it from Earth.
But Scientific American’s 60-Second Science blog points out that “a neutron detector on board NASA’s Lunar Prospector found what was initially hailed as evidence of water ice in 1998, but that finding has since been cast into doubt.” LRO carries a more modern Russian-designed neutron detector called Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND). The Los Angeles Times adds that the science team speculates that ice hidden in the Moon’s supercold crannies could be millions of years old.
MSNBC mentions another instrument, the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA), whose first map reveals rough terrain near the south lunar pole which, “would be difficult to drive a truck or car over, let alone a moon rover.”