Arizona Daily Wildcat March 6, 1998
Lunar Prospector sends first reportStrong evidence that water exists on the moon was released yesterday as part of the first mission status report from NASA's Lunar Prospector.
Launched Jan. 6 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida and now in orbit 60 miles above the lunar surface, the Lunar Prospector has been searching the moon's surface for water and mineral resources and mapping its magnetic fields.
"This is the first direct measurement that indicates water ice on the moon," said Lon Hood, a senior research scientist at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.
Hood said he was "pleasantly surprised" at the Prospector's findings.
To carry out its year-long mission, the Prospector is equipped with five scientific instruments, each mounted on one of three support arms outside the spacecraft.
Hood - one of seven scientists analyzing the Prospector's findings - is on the team responsible for the magnetometer, an instrument that will measure the strength and direction of gravitational fields in the moon's crust.
"The objective of the magnetometer experiment is to determine the existence and size of a magnetic core in the moon," Hood said.
"By determining if the moon has a metallic core, we will be better able to determine its origins," he added.
Hood said he believes the magnetic data obtained from the Prospector will help solve the debate over whether the Earth and moon formed simultaneously, or if the moon formed after a large celestial body impacted the Earth at an early date.
The moon has a magnetic surface but no global magnetic field. Scientists hope to determine whether that magnetism is due to asteroid or comet impacts or a metallic core.
Evidence obtained during an Apollo mission suggests the existence of a small iron core, Hood said.
"I think the odds are that we will find a core," Hood said.
The Prospector's magnetometer will gather information on the lunar magnetic field until the middle of this month. After that, scientists will spend a year analyzing their findings before reaching any conclusions.
"The data will have to be corrected for spacecraft interference," Hood said. "It (the analysis) is not something that happens overnight."
Like the Mars Pathfinder, the Lunar Prospector is a NASA Discovery mission, one that utilizes "better, cheaper, faster" technologies to answer questions in solar system science while conserving costs.
"It (Lunar Prospector) was the first NASA Discovery mission that was peer reviewed and competitively selected," Hood said.
He said that at a cost of $63 million, launch included, the Prospector is the least expensive of the Discovery missions to date.