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Trapped Ice at Polar Regions? : Scientist Proposes Searching Moon for Water

December 13, 1987|United Press International

SAN FRANCISCO — Scientists would like to conduct some sophisticated "water witching" on the moon.

A mission to look for water at the moon's polar latitudes has been proposed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Albert Metzger.

"The actual presence of water as trapped ice would not only be scientifically significant but would have major implications for future operations on the moon," Metzger told the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Society.

Metzger said the JPL is studying the feasibility of launching a low-altitude spacecraft from an expendable vehicle into a lunar polar orbit. Gamma rays that would be emitted when cosmic rays collide with materials on the moon would be measured with a spectrometer aboard the spacecraft for a "characteristic hydrogen signature" indicative of water, he said.

Water on Moon

Metzger said that during the last decade, scientists have noted several ways in which water may have been transported to the higher latitudes of the moon.

Water could have been taken to the moon by impacting comets and meteorites, expelled from the interior in the body's past and may have been transformed from hydrogen in the solar wind by chemical reaction, he said.

Metzger was among 4,200 geophysicists gathered for five days of technical discussions involving the Earth, oceans, atmosphere and the far reaches of space.

Among topics to be considered are the prediction of earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest, whether El Nino climate change is caused by intense seismicity in the South Pacific and an analysis of causes of the 5.8 earthquake Oct. 1 in the Whittier area.

A New Theory

A U.S. Geological Survey scientist introduced a new theory to explain fluctuations of the Earth's climate over various time scales.

Charles A. Perry of Lawrence, Kan., said atoms vibrate at a certain frequency, and by subtracting the "beat" frequency of helium burning on the sun from that of hydrogen, one can determine solar activity.

Continental glaciation similar to the glacial period that ended about 12,000 years ago can be correlated to long-term periods of low solar output caused by helium burning and carbon dioxide positive feedback mechanisms, he said.

By contrast, interglacial periods, such as that the Earth is enjoying now, may be caused by a predominance of hydrogen burning within the sun.

'Cyclic Solar Activity'

"Short bursts and lulls in solar output, seemingly random but tied to cyclic solar activity, could well be driving the daily weather machine," Perry said.

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