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Clementine's image of the near-side of the Moon
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NASA

Headlines declare (12/2/96): Ice patches seen on Earth's moon

Radar images of the Moon's surface taken by American Defense Departments's Clementine lunar probe have pointed to the possibility of finding water on the Moon. The images of the Moon's south pole region show a patch of ice about 16 feet thick and roughly the size of four football fields.

One theory suggests that the source of ice was a comet which hit the Moon's surface some 3.6 billion years ago. Water from the icy comet was collected in the bottom of the crater where temperatures fall as low as -230 C. Because moon has no atmosphere, comets do not burn up as they approach its surface. Upon impact with the Moon's surface, gaseous matter from comets hangs around as a cloud. Water molecules from this cloud get trapped in extreme cold regions, finally depositing as ice. The scientist now theorize that vapor from comet impacts drifted towards the pole where it got trapped in extreme cold and turned into ice.

The discovery was made two years ago (~1994), but was hushed until now as the data were being analyzed. The evidence of water was collected by a satellite designed to test technology for tracking and intercepting hostile missiles. The Clementine mission used the Moon as a mock target to test missile sensor equipment, but during its two-month lunar orbit it collected 1.8 million images of over 99.9 per cent of the Moon's surface. Six visits to the equatorial region of the Moon by Apollo spacecraft turned up no trace of water. Twelve astronauts, all from the U.S., have walked on the surface of the moon, which is about 239,000 miles from the Earth.


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