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Water turns up on more than one moon

December 21, 2009 at 01:00 PM

GATEHOUSE NEWS SERVICE

These are exciting times in science. Space scientists are seeing unparalleled vistas and continue to unlock mysteries of the universe. Recently, water, so precious to us on Earth, has been found in places we would never have imagined.

NASA scientists announced after a monthlong analyses, that water was kicked up by the space probe that was intentionally slammed into a darkened moon crater, on Oct. 4. Long suspected but never proved, several angles of study showed that water was present in the plume of dust. Suspected to have been delivered by icy comets, water on the moon will be very useful to future lunar astronauts who arrive to stay for a while.

An estimated 25 gallons of water were detected in the plume sent up from the moon.

Geysers of water vapor have also been photographed recently, erupting from another moon- a satellite of Saturn. The Cassini spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn for five years, and still makes amazing discoveries. On Nov. 2 and 21, Cassini flew past Enceladus and pictured multiple fountains of water vapor and dust, spewing from deep fissures in the satellite surface.

The jets fire in rows in what has been nicknamed as the Tiger Stripes, visible in other close photographs of the satellite world.

The intrepid rovers Spirit and Opportunity, still working well past their warranties and on Mars since 2004, brought proof liquid water once flowed there. Abundant water ice has been detected beneath the Martian surface dust.

Europa, one of the four largest moons of Jupiter, is covered in ice believed to cover a global ocean.

Long holding our fascination is the potential that some form of life could thrive in exotic, watery worlds other than Earth. This idea is supported by the discovery of creatures in our own world, living in the frigid, perpetually dark ocean bottoms clustered around volcanic vents.

A real concern for those envisioning these possibilities, is the potential of our own spacecraft ferrying microbes from Earth and contaminating the virgin worlds we explore.

To lessen that chance, NASA sterilizes spacecraft before launch in “clean rooms’ with special air filtered ventilation. Spacecraft are baked at 233 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 hours.

As reported at http://www.space-travel.com, NASA expects that future interplanetary missions will have to be even more strict to avoid microscopic hitchhikers.

Of course, if alien life exists, accidentally bringing back organisms to Earth on return missions is another issue.

The elements that make up our world, including hydrogen and oxygen which combine into water, are everywhere we look, over our heads every starry night. Telescopes equipped with spectrometers analyze the colorful spectrum of starlight, detecting the presence of elements in the star. Molecules of water, as well as other molecules, absorb specific frequencies of light, showing up as thin black lines in the spectrum. Water was been found this way in the light from interstellar clouds (nebulae). Stars and planets are believed to form from these clouds.

Infrared studies of the Orion Nebula have found an intense glow near the nebula, of water molecules. Shock waves from stellar explosions are believed to force oxygen and hydrogen to atoms to collide and form clouds of water vapor.

This all can add to the wonder of what we see at night, assuming earthly clouds of water droplets are not hiding our view! 

Full moon is on Dec. 1. Even with the moonlight, you will be able to see the brighter stars. Look for Orion rising in the east, and low in the east around mid-evening, see the bright, fiery orange planet Mars. The moon, Orion and Mars all are known to contain water.

The writer may be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Keep looking up!

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