Blue spots indicate likely deposits of ice at the south (left) and north poles of the Moon. Most of the ice lies inside permanently shadowed craters. It could provide drinking water, rocket fuel, and other resources for future lunar explorers. [NASA]
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We don’t know whether anyone will ever establish an outpost on the Moon. If they do, though, the residents will need a source of supplies, including water, oxygen, rocket fuel, and many others. And they may be able to get some of those things from the Moon itself. They’re warehoused at the Moon’s poles — in big deposits of frozen water.
The first evidence of that ice was obtained a quarter century ago, by a spacecraft in lunar orbit. And the strongest evidence yet was obtained by another orbiter, and reported earlier this year.
Scientists watched the poles with a NASA instrument aboard an Indian spacecraft. The craft entered orbit around the Moon 10 years ago this week, and operated for about nine months.
A recent analysis of its observations found strong evidence of water ice at the poles. Most of it sits inside craters that never see the Sun. Temperatures in the bottoms of craters studied by the mission stay at minus-250 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. So the ice could have been there for billions of years.
Colonists could melt the ice to provide drinking water. And they could separate its components to provide oxygen and rocket fuel — “living off the land” on the surface of the Moon.
The Moon is a beautiful crescent this evening. It’s low in the southwest at nightfall. The planet Saturn stands close to the lower right of the Moon, and looks like a bright golden star. They set a few hours after sunset.