Friday, March 14, 2008

Checking in on that Moon acreage you bought...

If you haven't seen the videos of the moon's surface coming back from the JAXA Selene / Kaguya spacecraft, check them out. We've all become slightly jaded about videos of space-scapes due to all the animations and high-quality sci-fi out there, so it's important to remember that... WE'RE FLYING OVER A REAL PLANET!!  The spacecraft is 100 km from the surface, equivalent to the highest flights by research aircraft here on Earth, and the HD videos have a resolution of 10 km.  The movies beautifully show the exquisite detail of the crater structures and the drastic changes in surface topography; I highly suggest one of the clips flying over the terminator (V-044-0067 for example) where the shadows give the most contrast.

As pointed out in a nice BBC article, one of the interesting astrobiological questions for lunar exploration concerns the possible presence of water in the shadowed regions of large craters. The water would be left over from giant comet impacts and conserved due to the consistently cold temperatures in the shadows (temps on the Moon are ~ 100 degrees C in the sun and -100 degrees C in the shade). While it wouldn't necessarily be worth much on Earth (how much would you pay to drink a glass of Moon water?), water would be an incredibly valuable resource for building a sustainable human presence. Additionally, analyzing the chemical properties (such as the amount of deuterium, a heavier isotope of standard H2O) of pristine water deposits could tell us a lot about where Earth's water came from - and whether Earth-like planets around other stars would have a similar amount of water as our home planet.

1 comment:

Rivers said...

The Project Manager was at Goddard a week or two ago and showed some of the HD video from a Blu-ray player in the auditorium in B3... absolutely stunning!