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MOUNTAIN VIEW Mar 98
Keep the Moon's water to set up a second-chance resource to protect humanity in the event of a major asteriod or comet strike on Earth - DO NOT USE THE WATER EXCEPT BY RECYCLING. TO PLAN TO WASTE IT IN A CENTURY OR TWO IS SUICIDAL MANIA.
Nasa scientists have found enough water on the moon to support a modest colony for centuries. It is in the form of ice deep in shadowy craters on the north and south poles of the moon. Nasa estimates that melted down it would make a lake which would cover an area of 10 sq km to a depth of 10m. "We have found water," said an exultant Dr Alan Binder, chief investigator for Nasa's Lunar Prospector robot probe, which in January began orbiting the moon to scan the lunar surface. "The implications of this are tremendous." One obvious implication is that it would make the moon a stepping stone io Mars. The Nasa teaxn said the Lunar Prospector's neutron spectrometer sent back data indicating the presence of significant amounts of hydrogen distributed in the loose lunar sofl at the bottom of polar craters. This hydrogen, which they say represents tiny crystals of frozen water mixed in with the dry dirt, confirmti, theories Wa residues of water had been left on the moon by icy comets and meteors which have smashed into it over billions of years. The moon was born dry. The water was added," said Dr Binder. "We'are certain that water is there. The uncertainty is how much." Dr William Feldman, who analysed the neutron spectrometer results, said the preliminary data indicated the moon could hold enough water to sustain a human colony for generations, or enough hydrogen to serve as the raw material to fuel explorations even further into space. "This is a significant resource which will enable a modest amount of colonisation for centuries," he said. The two scientists estimated that the total water reserves on the moon could amount to anywhere from 11 million to 330 million tonnes at least equal to a lake of 10 sq km to a depth of 10 m deep. If water deposits go even deeper in the lunar soil, that total could be increased to as much as 1.3 billion tonnes, they said.
Even a low estimated reserve of 33 million tonnes could sustain a community of 2000 people on the lunar surface for well over 100 years, without recycling.
To transport the same amount of water from earth to the moon would cost at least $60 triwon. "This certainly opens up the possibility of extended economic activity on the moon.that would enable future exploration of space and the solar system," said Lewis Peach of the Office of Space Flight at Nasa. Officials said that while the amount of water in the lunar soil was about the same as that found in volcanic rock on earth, the loose, sandy nature of the moon's dirt would make it easy to extract. 'You distil it, and collect it, like moonshine," said Dr Binder. The difficulty, he said, would be making machinery that could function in the severe cold of the moon's craters, which are permanently shielded from the sun's' warmth. Nevertheless, scientists said the discovery marked a major milestone in mankind's road to space, and a triumph for the $63 million Lunar Prospector mission, the flagship of Nasa's new "faster, better, cheaper" strategy for space, exploration. The tiny probe, which has been in orbit for just about seven weeks, has already sent back bo much information of such high quality "it goes way beyond our expectations," Dr Binder said. REUTERS
Death Star New Scientist 4 Apr 98
The most dramatic crisis the living world has seen for hundreds of millions of years was caused by a nearby supernova, a geologist in Hungary suggests. He believes he lias found debris from the exploded star. The Permian extinction about 250 million years ago wiped out 90 per cent of all species oii Earth. Yet its cause lias remained a mystery. Years of research have failed to turn up any solid evidence for an asteroid impact comparable to the one blamed for the death of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Other causes that have been suggested include volcanism in Siberia and widespread depletion of ocean oxygen. But neither theory is widely accepted, because no one understands how these could have such a drastic effect. Astrophysicists first pointed to supernovae as possible culprits more than two decades ago. John Ellis of CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva, and David Schramm of the University of Chicago estimated that every few hundred million years, a star explodes within a few tens of light years from Earth. At that distance, high-energy particles and radiation from the blast could strip away the Earth's ozone layer for two hundred years, with potentially deadly results. With the ozone layer gone, ultraviolet light from the Sun and the supernova would penetrate the atmosphere, changing its chemistry and killing surface plants and animals. Hot gas and plasma from the explosion might also have disrupted the Earth's magnetosphere, allowing cosmic rays to reach the ground and causing more devastation, says Imre Toth, an astronomer at Konkoly Observatory in Budapest. Toth's colleague, Csaba Detre of the Geological Institute of Hungary, also iii Budapest, says he has now found what could be the debris of an exploded star-metalrich globules 3 to 20 micrometres in diameter. These appear in rocks from the period in Japan, China, India, Armenia, Iran and Hungary. The abundance of elements such as aluminium in the globules suggest tiley came from outside the Solar System, he says. Detre's discoveries, announced last month at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, left other researchers "very interested", says geologist Thomas Ahrens at the California Institute of Technology. But the case is far from proven. "There are several big leaps that I have trouble with," says Rich Muller of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California. Detre now plans to firm up his data by analysing the isotopes and trace elements in the globules. He also hopes to pin down their ages, which are not easy to gauge from most deposits of that period. Jeff Necht