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Moon and Jupiter

July 22, 2011

ASTRONAUTS: Hey! There is orange soil. It's all over. Orange! Hey, it is! I can see it from here! It's orange! Crazy.

Apollo 17 astronauts Jack Schmitt and Gene Cernan got a little excited when they stumbled on a patch of bright orange soil while hopping across the lunar surface in December of 1972. It was the only splotch of color in the otherwise gray landscape.

And now, that same soil has gotten planetary scientists a little excited, too. A recent analysis found that it contains a lot of water. Combined with observations by robotic spacecraft, the finding shows that the Moon is a lot wetter than anyone had expected just a few years ago.

That's an exciting prospect for future lunar explorers, because water is a precious resource. But it's a bit of a scary prospect for lunar scientists, because it makes it tougher to explain how the Moon was born.

The leading theory says the Moon coalesced from the debris from a powerful collision between Earth and another planet-sized body. But that scenario should have left the Moon high and dry. The Moon could have picked up some water from impacts by comets and asteroids, but not as much as the study of the orange soil suggests. The theory of the "giant impact" isn't dead, but it'll need some tweaking.

The Moon rises after midnight tonight, with the planet Jupiter trailing behind it. Jupiter looks like a brilliant star. We'll talk about one of its moons tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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