Water on Moon is bad news for China's lunar telescope

Sep 20, 2010
The Moon. Credit: NASA

The discovery of water on the Moon could affect a telescope that will be installed on China's first lunar lander, scheduled in 2013, a Chinese astronomer was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

In September 2009, scientists announced they had found a watery dew covering parts of the . In sunlight, the water vaporises and is then broken down into molecules of hydroxyl, a compound comprising one atom of hydrogen and one oxygen.

These hydroxyl levels could have a serious impact on lunar observatories, Chinese astronomers said in a paper to be presented at the European Planetary Science Congress in Rome on Tuesday.

"We recalculated the amount of hydroxyl molecules that would be present in the lunar atmosphere and found that it could be two or three orders higher than previously thought," said Zhao Hua of the , according to a press release.

This has important ramifications for China's third lunar probe, Chang'e-3, which is designed to land on the Moon in 2013 with an on board. The equipment would operate on the Moon's sunlit surface, powered by .

"At certain , hydroxyl molecules cause a particular kind of scattering, where photons (particles of light) are absorbed and rapidly re-emitted," Zhao said.

"Our calculations suggest that this scattering will contaminate observations by sunlit telescopes."

The press release was issued by the conference's organisers, Europlanet Research Infrastructure, a programme backed by the European Commission.

As recently as Friday, China's state media said the country was well on track for carrying out its ambitious lunar programme.

The first , Chang'e-1, orbited the Moon in October 2007, taking high-resolution pictures.

The next step is Chang'e-2, which will swing to within 15 kilometres (nine miles) of the Moon, testing soft-landing technologies in preparation for Chang'e-3.

A "trial flight mission" of Chang'e-2 is planned by the end of the year, the People's Daily reported last Friday.

The Chang'e programme, named after a mythical Chinese goddess who flew to the Moon, plays a pathfinder role in a strategy to bring a lunar rock back to Earth in 2017 and follow this with a manned mission in 2020.

Chinese scientists ultimately plan to build a lunar observatory, previous reports have said.

Astronomers have dreamt of placing an observatory on the Moon ever since the dawn of the Space Race in the 1950s. The Moon's perceived attractions included lack of seismic activity and -- until the discovery of the dew -- no atmospheric vapour to compromise visual observations.

Radio astronomy would not be affected by the higher hydroxyl levels, although a radio telescope would ideally be placed on the far side of the Moon so that it is permanently shielded from interference from TV and radio signals from Earth.

Explore further: Computer simulation suggests early Earth bombarded by asteroids and comets

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

China preps next lunar space mission

Sep 10, 2010

China is on track to launch its second lunar satellite by year's end, as the country pursues its plans for a manned mission to the moon by 2020, state media said Friday.

China says completes 3D moon map

Sep 29, 2009

China has completed a high-resolution, three-dimensional map of the entire surface of the moon, in an important step towards a future lunar landing, an expert involved in the project said Tuesday.

China Expected To Launch Lunar Probe Satellite In 2007

Aug 10, 2005

China is expected to launch its first ever lunar probe satellite in 2007, given that the country's moon exploration project has so far been proceeding smoothly, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation ...

Recommended for you

Exploring Mars in low Earth orbit

14 hours ago

In their quest to understand life's potential beyond Earth, astrobiologists study how organisms might survive in numerous environments, from the surface of Mars to the ice-covered oceans of Jupiter's moon, ...

Lifetime of gravity measurements heralds new beginning

16 hours ago

Although ESA's GOCE satellite is no more, all of the measurements it gathered during its life skirting the fringes our atmosphere, including the very last as it drifted slowly back to Earth, have been drawn ...

NASA's IceCube no longer on ice

20 hours ago

NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) has chosen a team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to build its first Earth science-related CubeSat mission.

User comments : 0