NASA finds up to 1.3 trillion pounds of lunar ice

Data gathered from NASA radar aboard an Indian spacecraft indicate that more than 40 of the moon's craters, permanently in shadows, contain as much as 600 million cubic meters of ice.

A map of the north pole of the moon, showing the locations of the many craters that have now been determined to contain frozen water. NASA

NASA scientists reported Monday night that the space agency has discovered as much as 1.3 trillion pounds of ice on the moon, a finding that indicates future lunar visitors could have a wealth of water waiting for them.

The new data was found using a NASA radar placed on board India's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. The ice was located in more than 40 craters, which vary in size from one mile to nine miles wide. All are located near the moon's north pole. All told, it is thought that there may be 600 million cubic meters of ice in the craters.

"The emerging picture from the multiple measurements and resulting data of the instruments on lunar missions indicates that water creation, migration, deposition, and retention are occurring on the moon," said Paul Spudis, principal investigator of the Mini-SAR experiment at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, in a release. "The new discoveries show the moon is an even more interesting and attractive scientific, exploration, and operational destination than people had previously thought."

In November, NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, uncovered a significant amount of ice and vapor close to the moon's south pole when NASA sent an unmanned rocket stage crashing into a permanently shadowed crater.

And over the last year, NASA said Monday night, it has been using mini-SAR, a light, synthetic aperture radar, to map the many lunar craters that are always in shadow and therefore not visible from Earth. Results from the mapping efforts indicated the potential presence of ice.

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