Why Is The Moon’s South Pole So Important? It’s All About Water

Why Is The Moon’s South Pole So Important? It’s All About Water

As NASA prepares to return to the Moon by
2024 as part of its Artemis program, the agency is focusing its efforts on exploring the Moon’s
polar regions. These are areas of the Moon which seem to
have a lot of water mixed in with the regolith. Some of these craters are permanently in shadow,
and might still have large quantities of water, that’s accessible to human and robotic explorers. This is a critical resource, and the Moon
might be just the place to help humanity as it pushes out to explore the rest of the Solar
System. But it might also be an illusion. We really won’t know until we look up close. Introduction:
Before I talk about the south pole, let’s take a look at the landing sites chosen for
the Apollo missions over 50 years ago. In 1968, NASA announced the five landing sites
for the Apollo missions. All of them were in roughly the same latitude
across the lunar surface – a strip that extended just a couple of degrees above and below the
Moon’s equator. Their criteria? Regions 5 to 8 km across which were smooth,
without dangerous mountains or craters, or steep slopes. All of the landing sites had to be within
the region of a free-return trajectory back to Earth, and using the least amount of propellant
possible. They wanted good illumination from the Sun
during the entire mission, on the Moon’s near side. The point here, is that they were looking
for landing places that were safe and accessible. The fact that the astronauts did science,
set up experiments on the surface of the Moon and brought hundreds of kilograms of lunar
rocks and dust back to Earth was a wonderful bonus. When Artemis goes to the Moon, it’s going
to be more challenging, since they’re headed to the south pole. Here’s why. In the inner Solar System, water is going
to be one of the most valuable resources explorers can get their hands on. That’s because you can use it for so much. You can drink it, obviously. In fact, you’re made of 60% water. You can use water to grow plants for food. You can separate water into hydrogen and oxygen
and then use the oxygen to breathe. Combine them back together and you’ve got
rocket fuel, exactly what the space shuttle used in its main tank. You can even use water itself as a propellant,
with a space-based steam rocket. Water is a fantastic shield against radiation. The surface of the Moon is exposed to charged
particles from the solar wind as well as galactic cosmic radiation, but hide under a meter of
water ice and it’s as safe as being on the surface of Earth. The problem is that the Sun is constantly
blasting radiation into space. Any water ice closer than the midpoint of
the asteroid belt is sublimated away into space. This is known as the Solar System’s frost
line. The Belters and Jovians have water to spare,
but here in the inner Solar System, it’ll be a rare resource, the key to everything. And water weighs a lot. Here in Canada, we use about 300 litres of
water per person, per day. If you were willing to pay SpaceX $2,500/kilogram
to launch it into space, you’d be looking at $1.75 million dollars for your daily water
use. But there are a few regions which might have
protected water for billions of years: the permanently shadowed craters at the Moon’s
south poles. Almost every part of the Moon is constantly
bathed in sunlight, or cloaked in darkness. During the lunar day, temperatures reach 120-degrees
C (or 253 Fahrenheit), and then during the lunar night, temperatures drop down to -232
C (or -387 Fahrenheit). In other words, during the daytime, it’s
definitely hot enough to sublimate away that ice. But at the Moon’s south pole, sunlight strikes
at a low angle. If you were standing on the Moon’s south
pole, you’d see the Sun down on the horizon, casting long shadows across the lunar surface. And there would be craters all around you
where that sunlight never reaches the bottom, regions where there could be permanent ice
deposits that have been there for billions of years. In fact, back in 1998, NASA’s Lunar Prospector
mission identified that there is significantly more hydrogen at the Moon’s south pole. More hydrogen means more water, clear evidence
that these water deposits are there. More evidence was gathered by NASA’s Lunar
Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting the Moon for years. It has spotted evidence of water on the Moon
many times, most recently, it was able to map tiny amounts of water bound into the lunar
regolith, more common at higher latitudes, and shifting around as the surface temperature
heats up. In 2009, NASA crashed the Lunar Crater Observation
and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, into the Moon to search for water. The spacecraft went to the Moon with the Lunar
Reconnaissance Orbiter and then detached on its way to the Moon. On October 9, 2009, the mission’s upper
stage Centaur engine crashed into Cabeus crater, about 100 km from the Moon’s south pole,
blasting lunar material up into space. And then the Shepherding Spacecraft followed
a few minutes later, sampling material from the first impact, and creating its own crater. LCROSS showed that there’s hydrogen gas,
ammonia and methane, as well as metals like sodium, mercury and silver. The Moon’s south poles have vast resources
for future explorers to use. Or maybe not. According to new research from NASA, these
deposits might actually be recent. Even though they’re permanently shadowed,
there are still solar wind particles and micrometeorites striking the surface, which should be eroding
the water ice. Nearby micrometeorites kick up dust that can
travel 30 km away from the impact site in the thin lunar gravity. These particles are heated by the Sun and
then land in the ice and warm a tiny little bit, sublimating it away. It could be that comet impacts have been constantly
replenishing the water on the surface of the Moon, which means these deposits are just
a few thousand years old. In order to know for sure, NASA and other
agencies are planning a series of missions and experiments, and we’ll talk about that
in a second, but first I’d like to thank: Christoph Schlor
Michael Purcell Stuart Gilbreath
Sherry Fibelstad And the rest of our 794 patrons for their
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we’ve decided to do a bunch of bonus episodes for the next couple of months. Two Guide to Space videos a week instead of
just one. Thanks patrons. Join our community at patreon.com/universetoday
and get in on the action. How can we know if there’s enough water
ice for astronauts to use? The European Space Agency was planning to
send a mission to the Moon’s south pole called Lunar Lander. It was supposed to have launched in later
2018, targeting the Moon’s south pole. Unfortunately, its funding dried up, and the
mission was cancelled. China’s Chang’e-4 Lander and Yutu-2 rover
are at the Moon’s south pole right now, crawling around, exploring the region, and
sampling the lunar regolith. They’ve been there since January 3, 2019,
and can only operate during the lunar day, when there’s sunlight to keep their instruments
working. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has
even photographed them as it orbits overhead. I’m planning to do a whole video about India’s
Chandrayaan-2, which just launched successfully on its way to the Moon. Over the next two months, the spacecraft will
raise its orbit from Earth and transfer into a lunar orbit. Then, it will attempt to make a soft landing
on September 7, 2019, landing on a high plain between two craters, Manzinus C and Simpelius
N at the Moon’s south pole. The Vikram lander will deploy Pragyan, a six-wheeled
robotic rover, to explore for as long as they can before they enter the lunar night, which
they can’t survive. Like I said, I’ll do a more in-depth video
on this amazing mission in a couple of months, once it successfully lands. In 2020, South Korea will be launching their
first mission to the Moon, called the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter. This 550 kg spacecraft will be launched on
a Falcon 9 rocket, and explore the Moon for at least a year. It will have several instruments on board
to study the Moon: a terrain imager to map out landing sites and interesting terrain,
a polarmetric camera to take photos of the lunar surface in various wavelengths, and
a magnetometer, to map out the Moon’s magnetic field, especially its mysterious lunar swirls. One instrument built by NASA is called ShadowCam. This is a camera similar to that carried by
the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, but with 800 times more sensitivity. It will study these permanently shadowed craters
at the Moon’s poles. The best strategy, of course, is to send robots
or humans to dig into the regolith and figure out what’s there. On July 1st, 2019, NASA announced that they
had selected 12 new science and technology payloads that would be sent to the Moon, to
help study its surface and help prepare for the arrival of astronauts as part of the Artemis
program. All of these missions are expected to fly
in the next couple of years as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. Some are just components, like new camera
systems, and experiments. But a few are really interesting as it relates
to exploration of the south pole. The first is MoonRanger, a small rover which
be built by Astrobiotic and Carnegie Mellon University. This 13-kilogram rover will test out autonomous
exploration on the Moon, creating detailed 3D maps of the lunar surface around the south
pole, including these shadowed craters. The rover will be able to travel and navigate
on its own, without communicating with Earth. PlanetVac is a citizen-funded technology being
developed by the Planetary Society and Honeybee Robotics that will suck up lunar regolith
from the surface of the Moon. Then it could be tested on site, or transferred
back to Earth for scientists to study back home. This will allow NASA to sample a wide range
of spots on the Moon to find out which ones have the highest concentration of water and
other useful chemicals. Next Generation Lunar Retroreflectors will
provide an upgrade to the retroreflectors that were placed on the lunar surface back
during the Apollo era, which scientists still use to measure how fast the Moon is drifting
away from us. These new reflectors could tell us more about
the Moon’s interior and answer questions about basic physics. LISTER is a heat probe that’ll be drilled
2-3 meters into the lunar regolith to help measure temperature differences at different
depths and tell us how geologically active the Moon is. Similar to the InSight mission at Mars. The Sample Acquisition, Morphology Filtering
and Probing of Lunar Regolith will use a spare robotic arm from the Mars Exploration Rover
missions (you know, Spirit and Opportunity), to gather samples from the Moon. And like I said, there are a bunch more. I’ll put a link to the full list in the
show notes. Over the next decade, the Moon is going to
get much busier. There are multiple missions planned by Russia,
a collaboration between India and Japan, more missions from China, and a bunch of private
landers. Of course, I’ll keep you updated as any
of these are constructed. Right now, we have a tantalizing hint that
there are vast stores of water ice at the Moon’s south pole. Over the next few years, robots and then people
will study this region very carefully, building up the evidence. If we’re lucky, the Moon will have everything
we need to take a big step off Earth, and out into the Solar System. What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Once a week I gather up all my space news
into a single email newsletter and send it out. It’s got pictures, brief highlights about
the story, and links so you can find out more. Go to universetoday.com/newsletter to sign
up. Did you know that all of my videos are also
available in a handy audio podcast format, so you can have the latest episodes as well
as special bonus material like interviews with me show up right on your audio device. Go to universetoday.com/audio, or search for
Universe Today on iTunes, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. I’ll put a link in the shownotes. And finally, here’s a playlist.

100 thoughts on “Why Is The Moon’s South Pole So Important? It’s All About Water

  1. Are starship flies anything like fruit flies? And are starship prototype flies the alpha version of starship flies, or are they flies that are exclusively attracted to starship prototypes?

  2. The moon doesn't interest me anymore. Half a century and counting and still waiting for humans to walk on the moon again. Humans need to do the science not robots. It's always baby steps and unconfirmed with rovers and craft. Get ppl back up there. Same goes for Mars.

  3. 7:39 if we have a photo of the Chinese lander, why is it said that we can’t see Apollo’s site? I want to see photos of Apollo!

  4. It always seems wasteful to me to use water for rocket fuel if it is as rare as we expect in the inner solar system…. Oxygen is pretty damn common in the inner solar system as the main component of silicate rocks yeah it is harder to "access" but with space based solar power energy would no longer be a problem… well eventually at least the goal should be space based manufacturing so we don't need heavy rockets any more. Perhaps in the long term we could make some sort of a "solar wind catcher" to extract the diffuse hydrogen and helium from the solar wind? With a large enough surface area and a long enough time period it might be non negligible even if Luna lacks water…(still probably not at sustainable amounts but… yeah).

  5. Hi Fraser you are one of my favorite youtuber. Your videos are always informative. Your simplest way of explanation really help us to know more about universe.

  6. I'm concerned that there may not be enough water or be feasible to extract around the south pole of the moon. You speak of so many ways to use the water that would ultimately require gigantic quantities. And even if the quanties were even remotely available, still it sees it would be an extremely tiny amount compared with what could very easily & quickly exploited.
    Additionly, when you addressed the question of how will we know if there is enough water, I have a concern.
    You said the water was locked up in the craters where sunlight never reached. Then how come you never mentioned any probes from taking samples from inside the craters.

  7. They need to just bypass the side missions and send people to test access water availability and set up harvesting operations and solar array to feed those harvesting operations power. Use explosives to burrow out a hole throw an inflatable habitat in it and fill the top of the habitat with the harvested water. Given the moons lack of atmosphere a power beaming satellite and or reflector array should be doable. Accept a small amount of risk and lay infrastructure ground work quickly.

  8. What happens to loose atoms that escape from an atmosphere of a planet, moon or gassed off of a comet? Do they move / have velocity and do they eventually get reabsorbed by another body?

  9. In 2008 ISRO from India launched a probe on south pole and first identified water source and the 2nd part has been launched for the same region very recently

  10. It’s a no brainer. It is an absolute prerequisite that we use the moon to learn how to live long term off earth. Going to Mars before we master this will be simply suicide in my opinion.

  11. Its cool they are exploring the moon and doing research , but i would love to see them bite the bullet and start sending gear up there in preparation for a permanent bases with humans .
    Robots are cool and everything (but they are slow and limited in capacity ) ,
    Nothing beats a heap of people living and working on station , even if for 6 months or year shifts , with enough people to look after sustainability , IE: the worker bee`s , and bunch of others boring tunnels , doing geology and resource hunting , setting up more habs so more people and worker bee`s can come and help out ..
    The old saying , more hands make light work .
    Back in the old days sending 3 people up was probably the way to go given the risk , but in this day and age , imo ,
    they should be aiming for many , like some antarctica bases with 200+ and more at some times .
    Probably money would be the greatest problem , not so much the technology side .
    Sending 3 people at a time to go up on basically a pr program for a bit of glory seems like an awful waste of time and resources .

  12. The red, white and blue American flags placed during the Apollo missions have long since been bleached white by solar radiation. America needs to get back to the moon with Artemis and replace all those white flags. If someone else lands there before us and sees those white flags, they might think it was the french who landed there first!

  13. I hope when 2020 comes around if Donald Trump is defeated the next president will not change the directive NASA has been given. I hope they focus on the moon and wont change it. Ill be so mad as im sure a lot of space enthusiasts will be.

  14. In 1969 our relatives where exposed to +120 C during day and – 230 C during night??? Why after 50 years such special clothing tech not available?

  15. Don't hold your breath we have heard all this before. Back in the pre-Apollo days and during the missions we heard that before 1980 there was to be a permanent human prescence on the Moon, but that soon went by the board.

  16. If there is water on the moon, there wont be for long if it not renewable!!! There id def no lakes, maybe a frozen puddle here and there.

  17. If you were on a large planet on a highly eccentric orbit would you feel the deceleration and acceleration force as you reach the apogee/perigee of each orbit. If so how would that affect your civilization?

  18. Due to it's low gravity, would it be possible to create a tether to an orbiting space station for easier access with tether elevators for cargo and personnel? We already send nuke reactors to Mars so it should be easy to use all that moon water converted to hydrogen fuel to maintain the moon station's orbit. Let's just move the ISS to orbit the moon and drop a rope to the surface. LOL. Also, if the ISS is going to be retired someday,why not just slowly increase its orbit height and then put it in orbit around the moon. Mooners can recycle the materials!

  19. If nothing can accelerate or decelerate past the speed of light and regular mater interacts with light. Could light interact with tachyons, if so could light be a medium between regular matter and tachyons which would allow faster than light communication

  20. I am skeptical of this new era of Moon exploration. I expect this missions to be cancelled or end in disaster (especially if they are russian or private funded) and i would not be waiting for the return of Man to the moon in neither the next decade nor the one after. Its nice to dream about it, i do, but reality is a whole different beast from what i wish to be true.

  21. I don't know about the moons south pole, but mine is important also!! To me anyway! Ha-ha!
    Seriously though, there is more mass at the south end, on the earth facing side. So I have heard…

  22. This video sparked a random idea tha might make building a lunar base a little bit easier. Place the base inside a permanently shadowed crater. The crater would act as the primary radiation shielding. You would still need some shielding, but I think it would be a lot less. You could place solar panels on the rim for power. What do you think?

  23. Shouldn't the frostline expand with time so maybe some of the asteroids might not be as eroded by the sun since they just entered the frostline if so there might be a change to catch those vaporizing water molecules.

  24. I think we will get to the moon again but mars, um ? We might get people on it but I think that will be IT, we need a much faster way of travel, so for now moon yes, mars maybe.

  25. The moon's magnetosphere is so aberrant that it makes satellites crash all the time… you've seen that map from those two satellite mappers, right?

  26. Right now the Earth's North & South Pole are where they are at right now; but they have & will move because of Precession. I need only write 3 words. "And the Moon?"

  27. Spain & Portugal needed the Pope to draw a line to stop a war over the New World. Look at 8:07 & wonder if finding enough resources will spark a war. Right now we might be OK with each other's landing sites but will that last? Draw circles extending from each flag to half way to another country's flag. See who has the right to claim what. Right now there may be no "claims" but how long will that last?

  28. Hi Fraser, I have a sunny question. What shape and size does our Sun's magnetosphere have? Does it get warped by interstellar medium or gets protected by the heliopause and retains a spherical shape?

  29. Random Question: Why are all planets (except mainly Pluto) found orbiting in the same plane? We live in a 3D world, any reason matter is condensing and orbiting on one plane to make planets? Why wouldn't we have planets orbiting in all directions around the sun?

  30. In this video, it seems the Moon's South Pole is more important than the North Pole, is it an arbitrary choice or are there more important reasons?

  31. This might be a dumb question… But can Sea water be used for propulsion? Does is have to be a specific type of water like fresh, deionized or distilled?

  32. "..These are areas of the moon that seem to have a lot of water.."

    Nestle announces new Rocket ship launch to the moon

  33. LOL! ESA's Lunar Lander would've looked for water at the South Pole but ITS FUNDING DRIED UP. (That's ironic laughter.)

  34. great to hear about (aboot) how much is going on in current moon exploration. i had no idea. its great to see all the international interest. long overdue!

  35. Fraser, If we lived on a contact binary planet like Ultima Thule, but with Earth-sized bodies, could we walk from one body to the other? Would we have to climb from one body to the other? How would this change if one body was Mars-Sized and the other Earth Sized?

  36. Mercury rotates very slowly and has a very thin atmosphere, so it has very cold and long nights. Venus also rotates very slowly, and has very long nights, and the temperature drops significantly, although not as much as Mercury. Why not send people/probes to the night sides of Mercury and Venus so where they won't get fried?

  37. I'm quite confident finding water on the moon. In my opinion, the moon will take a major role in exploring the solar system. At first the moon base for refuel spaceships and finding bond treasuries to operate the moon base. After the successful establishment of the moon base, mankind will operate a permanent space station in lunar orbit as a gateway to mars, the asteroid belt and beyond of the solar system. That's my point of view.

  38. Research Andrill, rotary drilling water in subzero strata looks like a non-starter to me.

    Better to make water in a closed biological process so it's a constant source, a closed portable system seems more rational for r&d costs than a dependency upon mined water to survive in space.

  39. I think NASA needs to confirm industrial water quantities well before Artemis mission, otherwise the Chinese might do it and claim it to be their own water.

  40. Question: What would happen to life on Earth if our solar system was in the vicinity of a black hole merger, not a neutron star merger, say few a light years? How would the gravitational shock wave affect surrounding objects and life in that case? Thanks in advance. I like your videos & keep up the good work.👍

  41. Dumb question but regarding lunar landers that lose power in the dark – why not use a lunar orbital sail and instead of powering propulsion instead power a highly focused laser to a receptor on the surface of the dark side for unlimited power say for a lunar base etc etc? – just a thought. Just seems we already know how to do it and this video is citing power problems as the end of their respective missions when they shouldn't be.

  42. Is it better to create methane based propellant rather than hydrogen based propellant on the Moon due to the relatively larger complications involved in creating and storing liquefied [wow, spelt correctly] oxygen and hydrogen?

  43. Hi Fraser, love your work. I have been wondering about the order in which you have space infrastrucure. For instance ore refining on the moon or asteroids. I'm guessing 1st would be power to supply heat to make the metals to make structures. Would solar power be enough to heat up the ores? None of this could be done in the vacuum of space so a pressured structure would also be needed right ?

  44. 7:30 A lunar orbiting, solar collector satellite could convert solar energy into microwaves and beam that energy down to a rover, hidden in darkness to power it, thus increasing run time and power output.

  45. Fraser, you are such an ignorant stupid fellow. You are giving credit to nasa for identifying the water on south pole..really!!! I don't think you are literate enough. The water in south pole has been identified by ISRO during Chandrayaan-1 mission , not nasa. I repeat not nasa at all. Try to give credit or at least acknowledge to the Indian scientist who actually does that.

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