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Moon, Mars, and Regulus

May 28, 2012

If we ever colonize the Moon, a critical resource will be ice found at the lunar poles. It’ll provide drinking water and rocket fuel. But the ice won’t be pretty and white, like the ice sheets of the Antarctic. Instead, it’ll be dark red or black — the result of eons of bombardment by radiation from the Sun and beyond.

A Moon-orbiting spacecraft has been measuring that bombardment for the last three years. The radiation from the Sun has been fairly low, because the Sun is coming out of a period of unusually low activity. But that’s allowed in more radiation from outside the solar system.

Over the last four billion years, the radiation would have caused chemical changes in the top layers of ice that’s hidden inside craters at the Moon’s poles, turning the ice quite dark. The radiation also would have caused chemical changes like those seen on the surfaces of comets and asteroids, creating organic molecules that are some of the building blocks of life.

No one is suggesting that life could exist on the Moon — conditions there are just too harsh. But the findings do show that the building blocks for life should be common — found just about anywhere that ice is being bombarded by radiation.

The Moon is part of a bright triangle this evening. As night falls, the orange planet Mars stands directly above the Moon. The true star Regulus, which is about half as bright as Mars, completes the triangle, well to the right of the Moon.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012


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