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A Phoenix + Ice = ? May 28, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in areology, Lunar Prospector, Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter, Lunar Research Institute, Mars, Phoenix lander, Polar ice.

Three days ago (May 25th), NASA’s Phoenix lander made it safely to the surface of Mars; specifically, the north polar region (where water ice was discovered to be chillin’ back in 2005).

Like the features of the Moon, the north polar region of Mars has a Latin name: Planeum Borem (insert “Bore ’em” joke/pun here), which means simply ‘The Northern Plain”. Below is a mosaic of this northern region from, appropiately enough, the Viking spacecraft:

You’re probably thinking “Yeah, NASA and all, but what’s this got to do with colonization of the Moon?”

Well, as far as having water at the poles, Mars may have company. The key word, though, seems to be “may“: efforts such as NASA’s Lunar Prospector and Europe’s SMART-1 have not turned up any clear evidence. Third time may be the charm, though (or at least that’s NASA’s idea): the Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter (LRO; launching November 24th, 2008) has a primary goal of finding water, along with even more critical research regarding lunar landing sites and radiation study.

As that Space.com AP article above notes, though:

“…the only way to know for sure is to send a human or robot. ‘You’ve got to go down and stick your finger in it, so to speak,’ he [Alan Binder, the director of the Lunar Research Institute] said.”

With Mars, that obviously seems to be their plan. While Mars has the possibility of past life tied to its water, the main motivation to discover water on the Moon is to plan for the possibility of future life (though water could simply be imported, especially if a space elevator is around to reduce the cost of getting it off Earth).

As the 6-month Phoenix surface mission unfolds, it should be interesting to see what lessons can be gleaned from it for similar poking around on the Moon.



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