WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Scientists who crashed two spacecraft into a crater on the moon said on Friday they found water in the dust they kicked up, just as they had hoped.
The barely visible plume knocked into the air by NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite or LCROSS mission last month contained at least some water. Scientists are now working to find out more about it.
"We're unlocking the mysteries of our nearest neighbor and, by extension, the solar system," Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist at NASA, said in a statement.
Water had already been found on the moon but the NASA scientists had hoped they could find significant deposits in the permanently shadowed regions of craters, in this case, a crater called Cabeus.
If this water is billions of years old, it could contain information about the formation of the solar system. And if it is widespread, it could be used to sustain space travellers or broken down into fuel for space missions.
The researchers used a spectrograph to analyze the light coming from the plume of dust. These instruments can tell what elements are found in any material by their effects on light wavelength.
"We are ecstatic," said Anthony Colaprete of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.
"The concentration and distribution of water and other substances requires further analysis, but it is safe to say Cabeus holds water."
And there is other material in the dark crater.
"Along with the water in Cabeus, there are hints of other intriguing substances. The permanently shadowed regions of the moon are truly cold traps, collecting and preserving material over billions of years," Colaprete said.
(Editing by Alan Elsner)