EPSC 2010 – Discovery of water on Moon clouds plans for lunar astronomy
September 21, 2010

Discovery of water on Moon clouds plans for lunar astronomy  

The recent discovery of water on the Moon may have a serious impact on future plans for lunar based astronomy.  Space scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have calculated that the scattering caused by molecules vaporised in sunlight could heavily distort observations from telescopes mounted on the Moon.

“Last year, scientists discovered a fine dew of water covering the Moon. This water vaporises in sunlight and is then broken down by ultraviolet radiation, forming hydrogen and hydroxyl molecules. We recalculated the amount of hydroxyl molecules that would be present in the lunar atmosphere and found that it could be two or three orders higher than previously thought,” said Zhao Hua, who will be presenting results at the European Planetary Science Congress in Rome on Tuesday 21st September.

The research has particular implications for the Chinese Lunar lander, Chang’E-3, which is planned to be launched in 2013. An ultraviolet astronomical telescope will be installed on the Chang’E-3 lander, which will operate on the sunlit surface of the Moon, powered by solar panels.

“At certain ultraviolet wavelengths, hydroxyl molecules cause a particular kind of scattering where photons are absorbed and rapidly re-emitted. Our calculations suggest that this scattering will contaminate observations by sunlit telescopes,” said Zhao.

The Moon’s potential as a site for building astronomical observatories has been discussed since the era of the Space Race.  Lunar-based telescopes could have several advantages over telescopes on Earth, including a cloudless sky and low seisimic activity.

The far-side of the Moon could be an ideal site for radio astronomy, being permanently shielded from interference from the Earth. Radio observations would not be affected by the higher hydroxyl levels.


A false colour composite of the distribution of water and hydroxyl molecules over the lunar surface can be found at:
Credit: ISRO/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Brown Univ./USGS


EPSC 2010 is organised by Europlanet, a Research Infrastructure funded under the European Commission’s Framework 7 Programme, in association with the European Geosciences Union, with the support of the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) and the INAF Institute of Physics of Interplanetary Space (IFSI) in Rome.  EPSC is the major meeting in Europe for planetary scientists. The 2010 programme comprises 48 sessions and workshops covering a wide range of planetary topics.

EPSC 2010 is taking place at the Angelicum Centre – Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Rome, Italy from Sunday 19 September to Friday 24 September 2010.

Updates will be posted on Twitter: follow @EPSC2010

For further details, see the meeting website:


Europlanet Research RI is a major (€6 million) programme co-funded by the European Union under the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission.

Europlanet RI brings together the European planetary science community through a range of Networking Activities, aimed at fostering a culture of cooperation in the field of planetary sciences, Transnational Access Activities, providing European researchers with access to a range of laboratory and field site facilities tailored to the needs of planetary research, as well as on-line access to the available planetary science data, information and software tools, through the Integrated and Distributed Information Service.   These programmes are underpinned by Joint Research Activities, which are developing and improving the facilities, models, software tools and services offered by Europlanet

Europlanet Project website: http://www.europlanet-ri.eu/
Europlanet Outreach/Media website: http://www.europlanet-eu.org