Moon may have frozen water in south pole crater, study says
This split image of Shackleton crater shows the structure of the crater in false color on the left. The image on the right shows the elevation of the crater (in color) and shaded relief (in greyscale).
June 20th, 2012
04:37 PM ET

Moon may have frozen water in south pole crater, study says

If humanity ever colonizes the moon, we'll need the help of local resources, like water and solar power. The lunar poles, which contain regions of constant sunlight, as well as constant darkness, could be ideal locations for finding both.

Scientists have exciting new insights about the south pole in particular: A study released in Nature today suggests that there is frozen water within a massive, well-preserved crater there.

The Shackleton crater is more than 12 miles in diameter and about two miles deep, and exists in permanent shadow. While the evidence for ice in the crater has been inconsistent, this new study, conducted by scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brown University and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, finds evidence for ice on the floor of the crater.

The research team, led by Maria Zuber of MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, used an instrument called a laser altimeter aboard NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to create a highly detailed topographical map of Shackleton crater. The laser basically lit up the area, allowing the team to measure the natural reflectivity (albedo) of the crater's interior, which Zuber describes as "extremely rugged."

Those measurements revealed that the crater's floor is much brighter than the floor of other nearby craters, which is consistent with ice in the area. Ice may make up 22% of the first micron-thick layer of the crater's floor, which Zuber says is about 100 gallons - not too much. However, these measurements aren't at all indicative of what ice may be beneath the surface.

The researchers also observed that the crater's walls were brighter than the floor - a surprise, given that the thinking was that if ice present were inside Shackleton, it'd be on the floor, since there's even less sunlight reaching the bottom of the crater than its walls.

Zuber and her team explain the brighter walls by theorizing that occasional "moonquakes" might cause older, darker soil on Shackleton's walls to slide off, revealing brighter soil underneath.

LRO orbits the moon from pole to pole, which allows the laser altimeter to map a different slice of the moon with each orbit. Each slice contains data from both lunar poles. Zuber and her team ultimately used over 5 million measurements of Shackleton crater to create their map, which is unprecedented in its level of detail and helpful for studying crater formation and other lunar processes. Detailed maps like these are also useful for planning future robotic or human missions.

One of those future missions is NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft, also in orbit around the Moon. "We'll be attempting to detect evidence for subsurface ice this fall," says Zuber.

For more, check out this video from MIT:


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Filed under: Discoveries • In Space • News • the Moon
soundoff (98 Responses)
  1. chat line

    I like this web site very much, Its a real nice billet to read and find info . "Reason is not measured by size or height, but by principle." by Epictetus.

    April 22, 2013 at 12:37 am |
  2. Rudson

    Yes, there are a lot of chipmunks this year. Not sure exlcaty why, but they tend to go through boom bust cycles, as to many small mammals. Perhaps the deep layer of snow was good insulation to allow more to survive the winter, perhaps abundant fall food allowed for good caches for the winter. There might be a corresponding bumper crop of some raptors.

    September 13, 2012 at 1:33 am |
  3. OregonTom

    Alright, Let us be on our way then.

    July 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • matt in nw


      NASA is one of the few gov agencys that have paid off hansomely ...and yet it seems to be like pulling teeth to get them the funding they need.

      We need to be in space.....its going to be critical to the survival of our species. It ll be a rough ride...but many would sign up in a heartbeat to work in space...our future is literally out there:)

      July 2, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  4. Rick

    Considering they found ice on the side of the moon not visible from earth back in 1996, which was confirmed to be water by satellite, this isn't really much of a discovery.

    June 28, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  5. dudley

    Why go to the moon? We get all of the cheese we need from Wisconsin.

    June 26, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  6. dreamer96

    Water in a crater on the moon....What a shock, and with all those icy chucks floating around in space...
    Maybe it's just waste water, from the secret alien moon base..Oh that is on the other side of the moon though..

    June 26, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  7. donna

    Aren't these BOGUS searches for water by NASA so convenient?

    Just when NASA has a big budget cut and has to cancel its water-finding MARS missions, it suddenly "uncovers" water on the MOON.

    Hocus pocus and needless waste of our resources.

    June 25, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  8. Daniel

    12 miles in diameter and two miles deep! That is just hard to imagine. I love stuff like this.

    June 25, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  9. Johnny 5

    Legend says that the astronauts were told not to return to the moon by it's inhabitants.

    June 21, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • Guest

      Ill bet the native Americans told the colonists the same thing

      June 26, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  10. willy

    Living on the moon a few months at a time would be cool. In others words an OK place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there. With surface temperatures around 150 Fahrenheit at moon noon and -150 before dawn a stroll around the rim of the crater would always be dangerous not to mention you have to carry your own air.

    June 21, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  11. S-Hug

    There's no point in exploring the resources on moons and planets for the sake of terraforming and making them habitable. We can't even manage to terraform and save Planet Earth. If we don't force the fossil fuel companies to retool for clean energy, Earth is going to look like the moon in a century.

    June 21, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • Lol

      That is comical that you think humans have the power to impact the earth to the point where we are going to cause CATASTROPHIC changes in 100 years. The earth was here long before humans and will be here long after as well. Forces of nature are far more powerful than anything humans can do.

      June 21, 2012 at 8:56 am |
      • poop

        Humans are a force of nature.

        June 21, 2012 at 9:16 am |
      • Not true

        That's not true, we do impact the Earth on a daily basis. If you think that we can not change the behaviors of the atmosphere then set off a few Tzar bombs. As to the disagreements between the eco-friendly people and the people who don't believe in climate change, it seems that they are too extreme in either case. It's not all going to blow up tomorrow as the movie "Day after Tomorrow" would have you believe. It's not entirely impossible, but quite improbable. The thought that we don't affect the environment around us is just close minded. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

        June 21, 2012 at 9:17 am |
      • Norm

        God made the earth for us to use up.
        Once we've done that...He'll provide an alternative.

        June 21, 2012 at 9:32 am |
      • Frank

        The Passenger Pigeon? It went from a population of millions upon millions to extinction in just a couple decades because of over hunting. Don't be foolish and believe that humanity does not have harsh and swift negative impact on this world.

        June 21, 2012 at 9:34 am |
      • John M

        It is NOT ridiculous that human activities, taken en masse, could significantly alter the planet. Furthermore, since there are only certain conditions in which the planet is even habitable for us, we might not need to significantly alter it. We only need to alter it in such a way as to make *our* lives on this planet precarious.

        June 21, 2012 at 9:41 am |
      • Rob

        What he is saying is that we can't create CATASTROPHIC changes in 100 years, if we get close to doing that the Earth will wipe us out and go back to the way it was before.

        June 21, 2012 at 10:04 am |
      • John M

        I would have imagined that making the planet uninhabitable for humans counts as a catastrophic change. Even making populated *portions* of the planet uninhabitable would count. But maybe thats just me.

        June 21, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Caveman

      You want to know something interesting... we could of found this out 40 years ago had a team "actually" landed back on the mooon in this crater and took soil samples. WHY is space exploration proceeding so slowly in an age when we have the technology, means, and motivation to get the program in high gear? .. Thanks goodness for ol' Elon M., he's on it...

      June 21, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • T Ciccone

      There's no reason we can't do both. America managed to spend over several thousand billion dollars (a couple of trillion) on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What has that accomplished? Had we spent that on clean energy research and space exploration, there still would have been a large sum left over. Money is not really the problem–it's allocating resources to what is most in the national interest.

      June 21, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • alpg49

      Amen! We weren't put here to see how many planets we can spoil.

      June 21, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  12. weezer

    Great. So we use up all the moon water. What are the moon people gonna drink now?

    I can hear Joni Mitchell now...

    June 21, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Tim

      Recycled Urine.

      June 21, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  13. idunno

    Water elsewhere besides Earth? This is news how? I believe it's Jupiter or Saturns moon that has an ocean under it...

    June 21, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • Cthulhu

      I believe there's water on Uranus.

      June 21, 2012 at 8:36 am |
      • god

        get a towel then

        June 21, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • Farscape

      Those oceans are liquid methane.

      June 25, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  14. Waste some more money

    Looks like rainbow sherbert to me.

    June 21, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • asdf

      now THAT would be a good find!

      June 21, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  15. pop

    Slow news of the day. Let BRAZIL, PERU, FINLAND, SPAIN, GERMANY, ETC take over Moon

    June 21, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  16. awetmedic

    If Newt gets the VP job, maybe he can still go ahead with 13,000 people on the moon. They will need water in the size of several Olympic sized swimming pools to be able to grow food, drink and to have their own gym and sports club. They will also need water to wash their pimped out moon buggies and to make slushies at the moon based convience stores.

    June 21, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  17. citizenUSA

    Some astronaut took a whiz in '69.

    June 21, 2012 at 8:03 am |
  18. Stargazer

    The moon. Maybe a base to launch from but who would want to live there? Can't imagine the money it would cost to try and mine there. A pipe dream I think.

    June 21, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  19. Josh

    Come on NASA, use a "false color" other than BLUE, and it will no longer look like a pool of water in the bottom of that crater.

    June 21, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • eva68


      June 21, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  20. lolwut

    Ever see "Idiocracy"? That's why we'll never go the moon.

    June 21, 2012 at 6:24 am |
    • lolwut

      Colonize it I mean.

      June 21, 2012 at 6:24 am |
  21. j4ck3l

    hmmm... so finally predictions in this video are going to come true.

    June 21, 2012 at 4:21 am |
  22. Roger Ogilvy Thornhill

    I assume this is named for South Pole explorer Earnest Shackleton? If so, you've misspelled his name a few times at the beginning and in the caption. His biography "South: The Endurance Expedition" is gripping by the way.

    June 21, 2012 at 2:07 am |
    • Joe

      The government desperately want to colonize the moon so that the elite have a place to run when the nukes go off.

      June 21, 2012 at 2:09 am |
      • Norm

        ......and they can once and for all "truly" look down on the rest of us..

        June 21, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Sophia Dengo

      Nice catch - we missed a 'c' in there. It's been corrected. And yes, it is named for the South Pole explorer.

      Thanks for reading!
      Sophia Dengo,

      June 21, 2012 at 9:23 am |
  23. Omen

    Lets get there before the Chinese do.

    June 21, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • Prince Tamino

      We've already been there...a long time ago!

      June 21, 2012 at 2:28 am |
      • JC

        Not according to Faux News.

        June 21, 2012 at 2:53 am |
      • jim

        I think he means to the part where the water is,like colonization and stuff,,,

        June 21, 2012 at 3:50 am |
  24. whybs on twitter

    Now, all we need is Vodka! 🙂

    June 20, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • Spiffy

      moon glacier vodka?...........humm.....

      June 21, 2012 at 1:49 am |
      • Spiffy

        So that why Newt Gingrich wanted to retire there!

        June 21, 2012 at 1:51 am |
  25. Big Ron

    If things don't get fixed here on Earth soon we'll all be headed for the moon very soon.

    June 20, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
  26. Kanageloa

    I'm sure what ever the reason we put people on the moon for an extended period of time is, it's going to cost a boat load of money I'm not sure I'd be willing to spend. If we cure cancer, poverty, hate, crime and lying politicians then maybe we can work on sending permanent residents to the moon.

    June 20, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • HenkV

      I agree with you. It is people like Queen Isabella that really should spend their money better.

      June 21, 2012 at 1:55 am |
      • jim

        Yeah,didn't she know the earth was flat & Chris & the guys would fall off the edge,,,

        June 21, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • H Manuel Montes

      If we solve all those things there will be too many mouths to feed.

      June 21, 2012 at 6:33 am |
    • Rick Shultz

      Hah! Good luck with curing politicians of lying!

      June 21, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • Cthulhu

      Are you kidding? Colonizing the moon is way more realistic than ANY of those.

      June 21, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Norm

      There are people in this country with enough money to buy the moon outright.
      Let them do it while the rest of us live paycheck to paycheck...

      June 21, 2012 at 8:39 am |
  27. Clark Nova

    We've known this for about three years. This isn't news.

    June 20, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • JC

      Of course not. It's PR for NASA to get another round of funding for the wrong reasons. Hey, politicians! There's an extremely simple inorganic compound which is found all over the solar system on the moon! Give us money!

      This is about the most thrilling lunar discovery since we "discovered" that there were rocks on the moon. Pass the Tang.

      June 21, 2012 at 2:55 am |
    • Carlo

      I always find it funny when pepole say they can't read the characters or poses cause of the design. If they just said they didn't like it, that would be fine. This is going to be a very interesting character in the film

      September 10, 2012 at 1:11 am |
  28. CS

    C'mon NASA. That ice is just where the lunar missions dumped their holding tanks.

    June 20, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  29. Dyson

    There's more than just that on the moon, don't forget the lunar ruins and the seven mile high tower with a cube on it that is all "secret". There's also a huge monolith on one of Mars's moons, Phobos, Buzz Aldrin has talked about this on C-SPAN.

    June 20, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • CS

      Bigfoot and Yeti are there too. There are hidden crops...with crop circles too.

      June 20, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
      • leftinbrooklyn

        Don't forget Elvis...he's there...went on one of the 70's missions...

        June 21, 2012 at 9:23 am |
  30. Rosie

    These findings are not recent at all. I remember my astronomy professor talking about this three years ago. He explained that if in fact this is frozen water it does not imply that it is being produced by the moon but simply generated by the atmosphere. So because of the atmosphere water molecules may have caused the concentration of what resulted in frozen water.

    June 20, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • Stargazer

      Um. That might be difficult considering the moon has no atmosphere.

      June 21, 2012 at 7:53 am |
  31. Pete

    Watch humans deplete a whole crater load of ice in five years (and that's probably being way too generous).

    June 20, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • Josh

      The total of 100 gallons would only make for one, long, shower.

      June 21, 2012 at 7:44 am |
  32. saopaco

    Oh man- I hope it IS ice there!

    June 20, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  33. juice

    ....and I have ice cube in my freezer. Who cares!!??

    June 20, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Steven

      Did you even bother to read the article? I mean actually take a minute or two and /read it/? Not just come on here and post "WHO CARES?". No?

      June 20, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • jim

      If you don't get what a profound discovery it will be,you're missing some of your marbles,,,

      June 21, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • Norm

      You don't really care "who cares" so why bother to ask who cares?

      June 21, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • Ussias

      Peter, The new moon for April 2011 falls April 3 at 14:32 Universal Time. At this time, the new moon passes about 4 degeers north of the sun, though the exact amount depends on where you live on the surface of the globe. The moon's setting time (relative to the sun) also depends on where you live. Check out the links at our almanac page at .Bruce

      December 21, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  34. Yossarian

    Hold on tight, The Cheat — we're blastin' off TO THE MOOOOOOOON!

    June 20, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  35. popeye1128

    I honestly thought we'd have some kind of moon base by now. As a young kid in the 60's it seemed like by 2012 things would be much different than they actually are.
    Less war, less hunger, a moon base, maybe even a base on Mars......oh well, I guess that is why kids dream and old people get cynical.

    June 20, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • GLM

      Too many democrate in government!

      June 20, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
      • Diireno

        You misspelled Democrats...

        June 20, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
      • Tenoeight

        It was a "democrate" that commited us to lunar exploration in the first place, Einstein. Repubs are more interested in science for the purpose of killing, rather than for exploration.

        June 20, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • Diireno

      Too many republicans in government.

      June 20, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • Common Sense

      Wow. Political parties really have NOTHING to do with this. The maturity level here...

      Great comment, btw.

      June 20, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • fossilhund

      Popeye, I thought the same thing when I was a kid in the early sixties. I am 56 now and I still hope I live to see at least a manned trip to Mars. Maybe it's just me, but I feel we lost a small sense of purpose in this country when we did not keep going to the Moon, and beyond. I know folks always say we can do this after we eliminate hunger, poverty, etc. As Jesus said, the Poor will always be with us. In the meantime I think it's important to feed the spirit with continuing exploration of the Solar System, at least.

      June 20, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
      • Clark Nova

        I'm afraid that 'a small sense of purpose' is all we ever had.

        June 20, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • draftsman

      We had a future then, but we spent the last 45 years breeding the poor. We got exactly what we paid for. The media still sells, and the public still buys, the same old snake oil.

      June 20, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
      • JB071071

        If by "breeding the poor" you mean watching the elite win the war against the middle class I agree. If you are implying that people should only procreate based on their economic status..... I would thank you for the ignorance of the statement.. hope you referred to the first interpretation sir

        June 21, 2012 at 3:44 am |
    • jim

      I always thought it mysterious why we gave up moon missions.

      June 21, 2012 at 2:13 am |
      • finkster

        Because of those evil monsters that live there....:-)

        June 21, 2012 at 3:16 am |
      • realist

        It was the moon or wars – the last administration chose wars.

        June 21, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Norm do you know we don't have a moon base?
      With a defense budget that could buy a small country every year......

      June 21, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  36. Necrofun

    I call first pool party on Shakleton crater.

    June 20, 2012 at 9:07 pm |

      i'll bring the grill!

      June 20, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Charlie Aarons

      spelled "Shackleton"

      June 20, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
      • Norm

        Oh're so smart.

        June 21, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Yousef

      I was wondering when the 3rd sesoan of Emily of New Moon will be coming out on channel THIS TV. I've watched the 1st & 2nd sesoans twice already! I really want to see the next series, it's driving me nuts!!!!

      September 13, 2012 at 1:37 am |


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