The Great Water Conundrum

El Gran Misterio Del Agua

Updated Chronologically

My good friend Lee Covino recently sent me an article from ‘Science News’ (Vol. 161, no 12) about the source of Earth’s oceanic water (1).  Written by Ben Harder, the article outlined the latest scientific thinking about where all the water on Earth came from.  This is a particular problem for planetary scientists because the Earth simply should not have the amount of water that it does.  The Earth is relatively close to the Sun, and water, a volatile, should have been expelled from the early inner solar system before the Earth formed.  As such, the Earth should really be a much drier planet.  So where did all the water that is so crucial to the biosphere of this planet originate?

Ben Harder describes various theories that are currently doing the rounds in scientific circles.  Up until recently the leading theory was the notion that the oceans were deposited by comets impacting the newly formed Earth (the ‘late-veneer’ hypothesis) (2).  This bombardment occurred over a billion years (and might also explain how life appeared on Earth so early in its geo-history).  But according to Ben Harder’s article, recent data from comets has overturned this possibility.  The problem is that the isotopic ratios of terrestrial water and cometary ice are quite different.

The comets analysed thus far contain relatively large quantities of deuterium, yet this isotopic form of water is rare on Earth.  If this composition of known comet ice is representative of solar system comets in general, then very little of the Earth’s water can be attributed to cometary impact following the Earth’s formation. Taking this into account, it appears that only half of the Earth’s oceans could have been deposited by impacting comets.  As Ben Harder puts it:

“Assuming that the compositions of Halley, Hyakutake, and Hale-Bopp are representative of all comets, explaining how a hail of the objects could produce oceans with an earthly deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio is like trying to make a low-fat dessert from heavy cream.”

Puzzled scientists have tried to patch the flagging ‘late-veneer’ theory up, topping up the comet contribution with that of water-rich asteroids, but that doesn’t explain other problems to do with the Earth’s chemical composition.  The Earth is rich in many other volatiles, and these elements (mostly noble gases) are not noted on meteorites.  Topping up comet water deposition with that of water-rich asteroids would not explain the relative abundance of these other volatile chemicals.  For example, recent studies by scientists at the University of Arizona regarding the relative isotopic ratios of osmium in carbonaceous chondrites sink the late-veneer theory still further; the upper limit for deposition of volatiles from space after the Earth’s formation is a meagre 15% (3).

These new findings are causing planetary scientists a big headache.  The natural implication is that the Earth formed with its volatiles in place right from the start.  Yet current models of the primordial solar system rule this out.  Various new ideas are being floated, in varying degrees of complexity, to explain this contradiction.  Perhaps the primordial inner solar system was a cooler place than originally thought?  Perhaps the Earth was formed from a multiplicity of planetary ‘embryos’, some of which originated nearer Jupiter than the Earth, thus allowing a build up of indigenous volatiles?  Perhaps the rocks that formed the early Earth trapped massive quantities of water within them, preventing the volatiles from being routinely expunged from the inner accretion disc?

As those cheeky comic chappies from the spoof Japanese show ‘Banzai!’ would say: “Place your bets now!”

 

“Betting Ends!”

The solution is staring all of these planetary scientists in the face. It is so obvious that its absence within Ben Harder’s otherwise excellent article speaks volumes in itself.  The Earth has a rich mixture of volatiles, including water, because our planet originally formed much further away from the Sun.

But how much further?  Clues can be gleaned from the ‘embryo’ theory of the Frenchman Allessandro Morbidello (4).  He proposes that the Earth formed from the coalescence of Moon-sized embryos derived from various chaotic orbits in the primordial solar system. The ‘volatile carriers’ would have formed at about 4 Astronomical Units; four times further away from the Sun than the Earth, but still within the orbit of giant Jupiter.  He notes, however, that the water-bearing carrier from 4 AU would have been geo-chemically unique in the solar system.

Rather like the Earth itself, then?

The data about water isotope composition in the inner solar system strongly suggests that the Earth formed about 4 astronomical units away from the Sun. This, of course, does not ‘fit’ the standard model for the evolution of the solar system.  Yet the evidence points in this direction, so scientists should be reviewing the standard model.

If the Earth was once four times further away from the Sun than it is now, then we must explain how it managed to find itself in its current close proximity to the Sun.  Somehow, it was shunted into the inner solar system from an orbit originally much closer to that of Jupiter.

A model for this action already exists in the form of Zecharia Sitchin’s ‘12th Planet’ hypothesis (5).  Upon translating and interpreting ancient Sumerian cuneiform texts, this scholar proposed that the earliest Mesopotamian myths were describing the solar system to a high degree of accuracy, but with a few additional features.   Interpreting the myths in an astronomical context suggested to Sitchin that an undiscovered planet exists among the comets, one that was not an original member of the solar system, but an interloper wandering in inter-stellar space that blundered into the planetary zone.

There it encountered a watery world at about 4 Astronomical Units, and a great ‘celestial battle’ took place between these planetary ‘gods’.  The result was the shunting of this Water World, ‘Tiamat’, into the inner solar system, where it became the Earth.  The intruder, ‘Nibiru’, spun off into an eccentric orbit beyond the known planets, where it remains to be re-discovered to this day.

This is controversial material, of course.  Not the kind of speculative reasoning that readily appeals to the rational mindset of our academic brethren.  But the Water Conundrum we have just considered is remarkably consistent with this hypothesis.  Not wishing to rely too heavily upon that old die-hard ‘Occam’s Razor’, we seem to have a simple solution to a difficult problem.

 

The Origin of Earth

However, the isotopic evidence about the cometary ice would also call one of Sitchin’s own claims into question. He proposes that debris from the impact of the primordial Earth and Nibiru, and/or one or two of its moons, was scattered into the solar system forming the asteroid belt, and the comets.  Perhaps the formation of the asteroids may have occurred in this way, but not the comet.  The ‘late-veneer’ theory itself is in trouble because the Earth’s oceans could not have been wholly derived from comets.  So conversely the solar system’s comets could not have been formed from the oceans of the primordial Earth.  If they had then the comet ice isotope ratio would be consistent with that of Earth.

Current theories of the formation of the Moon are centred upon a massive collision between the early Earth and a Mars-sized body, scattering debris into orbit around the Earth, which eventually coalesced to form Luna (6).  The lack of a significant iron core within the Moon suggests that this impact took place after the Earth’s own iron core had already gravitated to the centre of our planet (7).  It’s conceivable that the remainder of the early Earth’s scattered debris formed the asteroid belt, given Sitchin’s proposal, and this possibility is readily testable by further scientific study of the composition of asteroids within the belt between Mars and Jupiter.  This might have occurred when the Moon formed, or as a result of later impacts upon the recovering Earth.

 

The primordial Earth is struck by planet early in the life of the solar system

If correct, then the primordial Earth must have been a very significant planet indeed, such that major impacts upon it created both the asteroid belt and the Moon (but clearly not the comets).  Such a massive terrestrial planet could have readily held onto a vast amount of volatiles at the original distance of 4 astronomical units.  It also would not be so incongruous that the larger primordial Earth would have hosted such a massive satellite as our Moon, a point noted by Sitchin when describing the relationship between the Sumerian Tiamat and ‘Kingu’.

If the Moon came into being following a collision between the early Earth and a Mars-sized body, then how would that tally with the ‘celestial battle’ described in the Babylonian ‘Enuma Elish’?  The picture is complicated by the scientific discovery of the ‘late, great bombardment’ upon the Earth/Moon system 3.9 billion years ago (8).  Was this the Celestial Battle described by the ancient Mesopotamians?

Perhaps the very early Earth (Tiamat) was cracked originally open by a Mars-sized body, forming the Moon (Kingu).  Tiamat remained a giant watery world with a new, substantial Moon. And so they might have remained had the solar system not been disturbed by an interloper. 

Nibiru, a wandering giant planet or small brown dwarf (9,10), entered the planetary zone, bringing with it a ready made contingent of comets and moons.  This latter action may have been the ‘late, great bombardment’ that occurred 3.9 billion years ago, when thousands of killer impactors bombarded our planet.

Nibiru’s immense gravity, momentum and non-orbiting vector perturbed Tiamat and caused it to fall towards the Sun, attaining an irregular new orbit.  Over billions of years, the resultant Earth was shepherded by the Sun and Jupiter into a more stable orbit, becoming the rather odd world we now live on, with its over-sized Moon and excessive water content.  Nibiru itself became captured by the Sun, but remains loosely bound and possibly erratic still, a condition that prevents the known planets from harmonising their resonances.

 

Earth’s Special Character

One final point to note.  If the Earth should not be nearly as wet as it is, being so close to the Sun, then it is perfectly possible that the Earth is actually a rather special place.  Without the action of a passing intruder planet of vast proportions (and I consider Nibiru to be no less than a sub-brown dwarf), the Earth would be a much colder place than it is now.  More like ‘Snowball Earth’.  Life relies upon liquid water…would the current bio-diversity on this planet have arisen if Earth was still at 4 AU?  One suspects not.

If a newly forming planet is close to a star, like Earth is to the Sun, and thus warmed by it sufficiently to maintain liquid water later in its history, then these exact same conditions should preclude the inclusion of water on that world in the first place.  The presence of abundant liquid water on the cooled planet becomes a paradox, because heat and water do not appear to mix when terrestrial planets form.  So this paradoxical situation we currently find on Earth is solved either by considering the possibility that the Earth has moved significantly closer to the Sun since its formation, or by rethinking how planets form.

Whatever caused our world to have so much water so close to the Sun, it may be unusual, possibly even unique. The Earth’s abundance of liquid water may be very rare if the action of an intruder planet is required to explain its shunting into a closer inner orbit.  (Saying that, some of the extra-solar planets found so far have odd orbits; particularly gas giants that whizz around the parent stars at very close proximity (11).  Why was the constituent gas not blown away by the star before the planet formed?  Does this imply that planetary orbits can change radically, possibly as a result of outside interference?  More planets, please, Dr Marcy!)

 

Life around Cool Stars

A final thought.  We always assume that our average boring old Sun is the blue-print for other star systems that might harbour the conditions for life.  Perhaps this assumption is correct, and the search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence should remain targeted at similar stars to our own Sun.  But if Earth’s acquisition of abundant water is truly an anomaly given the local heat generated by our Sun upon its formation, then perhaps we should be looking for life on star systems whose primordial fires aren’t so hot.  After all, the spectrum of stellar characteristics does not begin with our own Sun.

Red, or dare I say, even brown dwarfs would have formed without the same water-purging enthusiasm as our own yellow star.  I wonder if that means that we should direct our attention to the less bright members of the celestial family; even those who remain hidden entirely.  These relatively cool stars might have allowed watery worlds to form more readily around them, and bombard them with less harmful radiation to boot. SETI may have been searching in the wrong place all this time.

 

Water Worlds

The concept of 'migration' of planets has becoming increasingly acceptable of late.  It was not so long ago that Tom van Flandern heavily criticised Zecharia Sitchin's '12th Planet Theory' on the basis that Earth could not have migrated into the inner solar system from the asteroid belt.  Van Flandern argued that Earth's orbit should still be highly elliptical if that was the case, and the orbit should still cross through the asteroid belt.  These arguments were sufficient to swing Alan Alford away from the idea of the existence of a substantial Planet X body (12).

But science has moved on in recent years, and is generally more open to new possibilities about Planet X (13).  This is partly because of discoveries about our own outer solar system, but also because of the data that has accumulated about extra-solar planets.  Many of these 'exoplanets' have anomalous orbits.  Some of them are orbiting their stars at very small distances, and are known as 'Hot Jupiters'.  These bizarre giant planets are too close to their stars to have formed where they currently lie (according to existing theoretical models of planet formation, anyway), so the concept of 'migration' is increasingly mooted to help planetary scientists sleep at night.  If such a model can be widely applied elsewhere, then surely it could have happened in our solar system too?  Possibly even to the Earth?

The science writer Andrew Pike recently described a possible new class of planets that sound remarkably similar to Tiamat, as described by Sitchin. This class of planets, called the 'Water Worlds', are still theoretical, but this looks like a very exciting development for those interested in Tiamat's transformation into the Earth:

 

“Alain Leger of the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, France, has suggested a new class of exoplanet called a ‘Water World’.  Such worlds would be completely covered in water with no land masses.  They would have twice the diameter and around six times the mass of earth with orbital distances from their host star about the same as the Earth (1 AU).  They would have a metallic (probably iron) core about 4000 km radius, surrounded by a rocky mantle 3500kn thick, and be overlaid by a layer of ice 5000km thick covered by the liquid ocean 100km deep.

 “Finally, the planet would have a gas atmosphere to retain its liquid surface preventing evaporation into space.  Water Worlds would start life in a similar way to Uranus and Neptune in our solar system.  However, in these exosystems they might then migrate to the warmer inner regions heating up as they go.

 “Such migration is likely to be commonplace in exoplanetary systems. It explains a lot of features observed there, in particular how the Hot Jupiters formed.  These Water Worlds are still in the realms of speculation but there are a lot of reasons to believe they might exist and their detection might be closer than we think.  Should one of these Water Worlds pass in front of a Sun-like star it would cause a dimming in the star’s light of one in a thousand parts which is well within the scope of planned detection projects like the Eddington and Kepler missions [designed to widen the search for extra-solar planets].”  (14)

There is so much that we don't understand about the formation of planetary systems.  This can be only one of a myriad of possibilities, but its early introduction to scientific speculation would indicate its potential.  If such Water Worlds are found to exist then they would provide a huge lift for Sitchin's theories. Because one of them may have formed between Mars and Jupiter and, through interaction with Nibiru, migrated into towards the Sun 3.9 billion years ago, thereby losing substantial quantities of that water into the solar system.  The result, as they say, is history.  Earth's History!

 

Photosynthesis

Over the years I have described how an ecosystem might have arisen on a moon orbiting a small brown dwarf, whose light emission is minimal.  It can be easily argued that the conditions on that moon would be warm enough for liquid water, but some have offered a counter-argument that there still would be insufficient light for photosynthesis to take place in the outer solar system.  Such light as there is would have to come from Nibiru, an old and small sub-brown dwarf: a class of failed stars about which we have little knowledge.  Astronomers argue about whether such bodies can even emit light, but there does seem to be a good possibility that they do, through chemical reactions in the substantial outer layers of atmosphere.  This would result in 'flaring' of light rather than constant brightness.

This is rather like arguing for light-emitting fish in the Deep Sea oceans. Before their discovery no one would have expected 'Angler Fish' at the bottom of our oceans.  Is Nibiru the planetary equivalent of a neon red Angler Fish?  Is its moon system lit by this little oasis of red light in the deep abyss of the outer solar system?  I suggest that it is.

So would this be sufficient for photosynthesis to take place out there?  We can look to events on our own planet to answer that question, particularly under the Antarctic ice.  The scientist Chris McKay has studied eco-systems that depend upon the dimmest of light emerging through the ice to trigger photosynthesis:

"Only about 2 percent of the Sun's light gets through the ice and reaches the cyanobacteria, but that's plenty bright enough to support photosynthesis.  To McKay, in fact, the ability of some photosynthetic  organisms to survive in dim light carries an important lesson for exobiology "There are plants that photosynthesize at light levels equivalent to living at a hundred astronomical units" he says...[which] would extend more than twice as far as the Sun's most distant planet, Pluto.  Therefore, McKay believes, there is no reason to think that any of our Sun's planets, or similarly placed bodies around Sun-like stars, are too dimly lit to support photosynthetic life." (15)

When you add in the warming and local lighting effect of the dark star Nibiru, then conditions on its moons would be more favourable still for the emergence of complex ecosystems in the outer solar system.  Game on.

 

Equatorial Sea on Mars; Confirmed!

Regular readers of this website will have heard quite a lot about Dr John Murray down the years; he's an Earth Scientist at the Open University based in Milton Keynes in England.  One of his interests is astronomy, and he was of course one of the professors who put forward the idea of a brown dwarf in a great circular orbit around the Sun back in 1999.  He's been hard at work again, this time due to his involvement in ESA's Mars Express mission.  His geological knowledge has been put to the test with these images of ice floes on an equatorial region on Mars (16,17).

A press release by University College London (UCL) confirmed the finding after a recent presentation to ESA scientists at a conference in the Netherlands.  The imaging camera on Mars Express seems to have caught a sea frozen just 5 million years ago, then covered in volcanic dust, preventing the sublimation of the ice by Mars' frigid and thin atmosphere. The BBC carried the news this morning, highlighting the additional finding of methane gas over the same general area.  The combination of a deep body of water and methane gas is strongly suggestive of life existing presently under the Martian surface. 

The sea itself is about the size of the North Sea off the east coast of the United Kingdom, and has an average depth of about 150 feet.  It is located in the area of Mars known as Elysium, 5 degrees north of the equator.

The press release says that when water levels sank on Mars, pack ice seems to have grounded on islands, and thick ice formed in craters. The flat surface of the planet in the area studied ``suggests that most of the ice is still there.'' Ice on the surface of Mars isn't stable because of the planet's low atmospheric pressure. While frozen water would normally sublime -- or change straight from a solid state into vapour -- on the planet's surface, the frozen sea is protected from this process by a covering of dust and ash, the university added (17)

This seems to be very good evidence for the existence of life on Mars.  Surprisingly, this information is not making headline news like the discovery of the controversial meteorite ALH1004 did.  Perhaps ESA have a little less clout with the media than NASA?  Even so, this is a real coup for the European Space Agency who recently were in jubilant mood after the incredible success of the Huygens probe's descent onto Titan.

Because the sea is relatively young in geological terms, Dr Murray suggests that the finding implies the presence of other pockets of liquid water on Mars throughout Martian history.  "I was expecting glaciologists to be sceptical of our interpretation," he said "But when I showed the pictures to an expert on sea ice, he was utterly convinced." (16)

The confirmation of the presence of liquid water on Mars is exactly what we've all been waiting for.  It should accelerate the search for life on the red planet and further out into the Solar System.

 

 

Has Deep Impact' proven Sitchin's Theory?

 

On 4th July 2005 NASA celebrated American Independence Day in style.  It had sent a space-probe called Deep Impact towards a run-of-the-mill short period comet called Tempel 1.  As the probe approached, it dropped a smaller probe, about the size of a washing machine, into the path of the approaching comet.  The impact not only created a great fireworks display for the watching telescopes, but it also promised to give astronomers a rare glimpse of the interior of a comet. 

Over a month later, we are still awaiting the results of the spectrographs taken by various research groups connected with the project.  It turns out that we have some more months to wait yet.  One wonders why.

Recently, the author and journalist Linda Moulton Howe published an interview with Dr Carey Michael Lisse, Prof. of Physics at the University of Maryland,  a member of the Deep Impact Science Team (18). He was about to attend the 9th International Asteroids, Comets and Meteors Conference in Brazil, and shared some of the material he was about to present there. He explained that the scientific work was still on-going, dependent as it was upon calibration of spectrographic data.  But preliminary results were both exciting, and also rather puzzling. 

 

It turns out that Comet Tempel 1, which is composed mostly of water ice, contains every rock-forming element found on Earth.  It also contains carbonates, indicating rock similar to limestone.  This is very odd, because limestone requires a liquid water environment to form, as well as other ingredients like silicates. 

How did a comet meandering slowly through the frigid outer solar system end up with limestone in its rocky composition?  It doesn't seem possible, based upon our current knowledge of the formation of Solar System objects.

There's another problem emerging from the Deep Impact data.  Comet Tempel 1 doesn't seem to have iron amongst its elemental constituents.  This is also very odd, because iron is a common element in the Solar System.  Now, it may turn out that these preliminary findings aren't complete, and that other data has yet to come out to explain these oddities.  But if there's some truth to this information then there should be some good news for Mr Zecharia Sitchin here.  Why?  Because it may be possible that this humble comet is about to prove his "12th Planet Theory".

If limestone can't form in a standard comet environment, then the implication is that the semi-rocky interior of Tempel 1 first formed in a planetary embryo, if not part of a full-scale major planet.  This comet would seem to have once been part of something much bigger than itself.  Keen-eyed readers will recall a moment ago that Professor Lisse said that all of the elements found in rocks on Earth are present in this comet.  Is this a coincidence? What's going on here?

Lee Covino, the New Yorker who has just edited my new book, is very excited about the Deep Impact data (or lack of it so far).  He thinks that there is something strange about this news blackout, because this data should have been available almost straight away.  Instead, the scientists are sitting on it, and plan to release it gradually through the astronomical and astrophysical journals.  That seems to run against the grain of media-friendly science, where NASA catapults every shred of news into the media as soon as it's available.  One would have thought that Deep Impact was a media-friendly piece of science that would command world attention.  So why the caution being displayed by NASA scientists on this occasion?  Is there something about this data which is making them uncomfortable?

Well, what if Comet Tempel 1 is basically a big chunk of watery Earth rock?  What if the composition of its elements and isotopes matches that of our own planet?  How on Earth could the scientists explain that one?  Comet Tempel 1 is a standard short range comet, implying that its composition may be shared by other comets.  They can't all be icy rocks originally from Earth, can they?

They could if Sitchin is correct.  If Earth's primordial precursor was a larger, watery version of our world, and was struck by a massive planetary object, then chunks of that early Earth could have been sent spinning through the Solar System.  Earth itself then migrated inwards, as we have discussed above. Not only that, but such a theory would explain the lack of iron on Comet Tempel 1.  The iron making up the Earth tends to sink to the core, meaning that a surface strike would have sent a disproportionate quantity of iron-poor rocks into space.  Hence, the resultant comets would have no iron.  But they would have plenty of water ice, as this comet shows. 

If the isotopic ratio of the water blasted out of Tempel 1 by Deep Impact is the same as Earth, then Zecharia Sitchin will have good reason to host his own fireworks party.  The data will prove that these comets resulted from a massive planetary strike on Earth early in the history of the Solar System. 

Some commentators are deeply suspicious of the way the Deep Impact data is being handled.  Richard Hoagland pulls no punches in his assessment of the situation.  He has shown that the claimed difficulties of obtaining spectra, cited by Dr Lisse, are contradicted by early press releases by the Deep Impact team (19).  These seemed to indicate that everything went really well just after the impact event, and that great spectra were dutifully obtained by the scientific teams involved in the project.  That's not what Dr Lisse now says, though.  He claims that the mother craft's instruments were not correctly aligned.   It's not yet clear how such a discrepancy could be accounted for, or how much reliable data will be forthcoming publicly over the coming months.  Richard Hoagland smells a rat, and I can certainly see the motive behind it if he turns out to be right. 

More details have emerged in September about some of the unusual compounds found within Tempel 1:

"There are also surprise ingredients, such as clay and chemicals in seashells called carbonates. These compounds were unexpected because they are thought to require liquid water to form.  "How did clay and carbonates form in frozen comets?" asked Lisse. "We don't know, but their presence may imply that the primordial solar system was thoroughly mixed together, allowing material formed near the Sun where water is liquid, and frozen material from out by Uranus and Neptune, to be included in the same body."

Also found were chemicals never seen before in comets, such as iron-bearing compounds and aromatic hydrocarbons, found in barbecue pits and automobile exhaust on Earth.  The silicates spotted by Spitzer are crystallized grains even smaller than sand, like crushed gems. One of these silicates is a mineral called olivine, found on the glimmering shores of Hawaii's Green Sands Beach." 
(20)

Either all of the terrestrial bodies in the solar system have similar chemical constituents and compounds present, or Tempel 1 does indeed sound like a chip of the old block; Earth!  Scientists working on the project wonder whether Tempel 1 is truly representative of typical solar system comets, however (21).  Indeed, they go further, suggesting that there may be no such thing as a 'typical' comet at all.  Tempel 1, which originate in the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt, does not share similar characteristics with other comets which are from the same vicinity.  Perhaps this suggests that the physical environment in the distant Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt was once  more complex than previously thought, which would be an interesting revelation in itself. 

This comet may be provoking more questions than providing answers.

 

Water on the Moon - the implications (Sept. 2009)

NASA's data about Moon rock composition over the last 40 years has been very consistent.  The non-polar regions of the Moon are dry, desiccated, dead.  Until yesterday.  NASA announced that data from the Indian Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbitor indicates that there is a relative abundance of lunar water - even in areas exposed to the Sun's rays.  At 750 parts per million, a ton of lunar rock would yield about a litre of water (22).  Helpful for future missions.

But, how on earth did NASA get this so wrong for the last 40 years? The Apollo astronauts brought back piles of Moon rocks, many of which were analysed for water.  Traces were found at the time, but NASA claimed that "most of the boxes containing the lunar samples leaked which led scientists to assume traces of water found came from Earth air that had entered the containers".  750ppm is not a trace. And how about the boxes which did not leak?  What of the water composition in them?

Then there are the NASA probes in the late 1990s,which deliberately set out to discover water on the Moon.  They found frozen water in deep polar craters.  But Clementine, and particularly Prospector, were set up with spectrometers capable of detecting water across the surface.  How did they miss it?  They certainly shouldn't have!  Here's the Mission guidelines for Prospector's spectrometers:

"Lunar Prospector (LP), which was launched on January 6, 1998, carries an integrated suite of three spectrometers. A Gamma-Ray Spectrometer (GRS) and a Neutron Spectrometer (NS) are providing global maps of the major and trace elemental composition of the lunar surface, with special emphasis on the search for polar water-ice deposits, implied by the H abundance...Global mapping of elemental abundances by the LP GRS and NS will impose major new constraints on the bulk composition of the lunar crust, on compositional variations over the lunar surface, and on the existence of lunar resources including polar water ice" (23) 

The map opposite shows Prospector data from 1998 (24), which has still not been properly peer-reviewed over ten years on, according to the PDS website (25).  The equatorial map indicates that a fairly detailed, surface wide analysis was undertaken.  So - it begs the question:  Why is the Indian data (and also Deep Impact data, we learn) so radically different?  How is it that 40 years of scientific opinion about Moon soil and rock composition has been so fundamentally overturned?  Did God just pee on the Moon?  Or is there something fundamentally wrong with the data that NASA has been making public for the last 40 years?  The BBC news report about the discovery heard that NASA scientists were 'very sceptical' about the Indian finding at first, simply because it so comprehensively overturned their previously held beliefs about water on the Moon (26).

It beggars belief that two American probes sent to comprehensively survey the Moon just a decade ago could have come up with the wrong data - wrong data that is consistent with a scientific belief about the composition of Moon rock dating back to the 1960s.  Are we to believe that in the last decade the Indians have made a quantum leap forward in technology above and beyond NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense (which controlled Clementine)? I don't think so.

Notwithstanding that puzzling aspect of this story, there are other implications for the discovery.  Water is common throughout the solar system, it appears.  According to theories of planetary formation in the early solar system, inner worlds tend to have their water veneers driven off by the strong solar wind of the young vibrant Sun.  This is why Mercury and Venus are dry, and also why the Moon is supposed to be a desiccated shell.  Yet, now it is clear that the Moon is not that dry at all.  If the Moon was formed by an early collision between the early Earth and a Mars-sized planet, as is currently accepted, then why does the Moon have this water? It should have been driven off long ago.  NASA argues that this water 'comes and goes' with the long lunar day - and therefore is part of a continuing chemical process activated by the Sun's rays.

We return to the great water conundrum that features prominently in my book 'The Dark Star' (27).  Isotopic studies of solar system water are essential to understand the point of origin of any given water bearing object, as the ratio changes with distance from the Sun, roughly. This is complicated by collisions with comets which bring water from the outer solar system. The Earth is a puzzle in this regard, and I have suggested that this puzzle is best solved by the recognition that Earth began at a more distant orbital point, and then migrated in to its current position, perhaps due to a collision.  That the Moon still holds quantities of water in its surface soil and rocks strengthens that point. An essential next step is to establish whether the isotopic ratio for that Moon-water is more like a planetary object beyond Mars than one at Earth's current location.

 

The LCROSS Mystery

An essential next step is to establish whether the isotopic ratio for that Moon-water is more like a planetary object beyond Mars than one at Earth's current location.  The answer to that question would surely have been solved by the planned impacts of two parts of the LCROSS spacecraft into the lunar surface.  NASA expected a plume of dust and rock to result from the 5,600 mph collision, but there was no obvious sign of any plume from either collision (28).  However, closer scientific analysis eventually provided exciting news about ice on the Moon:

 

NASA confirms a "significant amount" of frozen water (Nov 2009)

Ice in large quantities on the Moon has been confirmed by NASA as a result of the LCROSS mission:

"A 'significant amount' of frozen water has been found on the moon, the U.S. space agency NASA said Friday, boosting hopes of eventually setting up a permanent lunar base. Preliminary data from a moon probe "indicates the mission successfully uncovered water in a permanently shadowed lunar crater," NASA said.  "The discovery opens a new chapter in our understanding of the moon," it added in a statement. The data was found after NASA sent two spacecraft crashing into the lunar surface last month in a dramatic experiment to probe for water. One rocket slammed into the Cabeus crater, near the moon's southern pole, at around 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers) per hour. It was followed four minutes later by a spacecraft equipped with cameras to record the impact." (29)

Robert Massey of the Royal Astronomical Society speculated that the 'frozen water' was brought to the surface of the Moon by comet impacts. (30) The large debris plume rose at least one or two kilometres in altitude. It stayed just below the crater rim, which may have prevented astronomers from observing it from Earth. (31) Lee Covino, one of my editors, has a keen interest in data about water sources in the solar system. He and I agree that the returning data from comets and asteroid exploration in recent years has consistently pointed to anomalies which can be explained by planetary migration and catastrophism in the early solar system, involving a Planet X entity.  He points out that the NASA press release about the LCROSS findings hint at the prevalence of other volatile materials in the Cabeus crater.  Here are the excerpts themselves:

  • "In addition, water, and other compounds represent potential resources that could sustain future lunar exploration."

  • "The concentration and distribution of water and other substances requires further analysis, but it is safe to say Cabeus holds water."

  • "The LCROSS science team along with colleagues are poring over the data to understand the entire impact event, from flash to crater, with the final goal being the understanding of the distribution of materials, and in particular volatiles, within the soil at the impact site."

  • "Along with the water in Cabeus, there are hints of other intriguing substances." (32)

If water was deposited by comets, then there might also be present on the surface of the Moon organic material from the same source.  Given that the water ice is held within the lunar soil, then it seems reasonable to suppose that comet-sources organic material and volatiles might also be prevalent within the lunar soils.  Such a discovery would be even more profound than the confirmation of frozen water. The building blocks of life could be present within lunar soil, brought to the Moon over billions of years by comets.

All of which begs the question - why was this not realised when the lunar rocks, returned to Earth by Apollo, were analysed decades ago?  It's perhaps forgivable to mistake water in the lunar soil samples for contamination.  Would missing the presence of organic compounds on the Moon be an omission too far?

 

This essay continues here:  The Great Water Conundrum 2

 

Written by Andy Lloyd, author of 'The Dark Star' (2005) 'Ezekiel One' (2009) and 'The Followers of Horus' (2010)

2nd April 2002, 15th Feb 2004, 22nd Feb 2005, 16th- 23rd Aug 2005, 25th Sept 2009, 14th Nov 2009, 10th Jan 2011, 7th and 20th Oct 2011

 

References

1) B. Harder “Water for the Rock: Did Earth's Oceans come from the Heavens?” Science News 23 March 2002; Vol. 161, No. 12  Thanks to Lee Covino

2) A. Delsemme “An Argument for the cometary origin of the biosphere” American Scientist 89 (Sept-Oct) 2001; pp432-442 [cited in (1)]

3) M. Drake & K. Righter  “Determining the composition of the Earth” Nature 416 (7th March) 2002; pp39-44 [cited in (1)]

4) A. Morbidelli et al  “Source regions and timescales for the delivery of water to the Earth”  Meteoritics and Planetary Science 35 2000; pp1309-1320 [cited in (1)]

5) Z. Sitchin  “The Twelfth Planet” Avon 1976

6) L. David "Long-Destroyed Fifth Planet May Have Caused Lunar Cataclysm, Researchers Say" http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/solarsystem/fifth_planet_020318.html  18th March 2002

7) J. d’Arc  “Space Travellers and the Genesis of the Human Form”  p29 The Book Tree 2000

8) I. Semeniuk  "Neptune Attacks!" pp26-9 New Scientist 7th April 2001

9) A. Lloyd  “Winged Disc: The Dark Star Theory” 2001

10) A. Lloyd  “Synopsis of The Dark Star Theory” , pp50-5, UFO Magazine August 2001

11) G. Marcy & P. Butler  "Hunting Planets Beyond" pp43-7 Astronomy March 2000

12} A. Alford "The Phoenix Solution" pp171-4,  Hodder & Stoughton 1998

13) A. Lloyd "Planet X: Past and Present",  pp32-7, UFO Magazine January 2004

14) A. Pike “Exoplanets: What’s New?” , p72-3, UFO Magazine, February 2004

15) D. Koerner & S. LeVay "Here be Dragons: The Scientific Quest for Extraterrestrial life" p43, Oxford University Press 2000

16)  Philip Ball "Mars may have a frozen sea" 22nd February 2005 http://www.nature.com/news/2005/050221/full/050221-7.html

17) Bloomberg News "Mars Has Frozen Sea; Raises Chance of Life on Planet" 22nd February 2005 http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=10000103&sid=adraOqIQmDEo&refer=us

18)  L. Moulton Howe “Deep Impact Spectra: Carbonate, PAHs and Some Amino Precursors in Comet Tempel I”  Interview with Dr. C. Lisse, Professor of Physics, 12/8/05  http://www.earthfiles.com/news/news.cfm?ID=960&category=Science    With thanks to Lee Covino

19) R. Hoagland "Deep Impact...Deeper Confusion" 20th August 2005 http://www.enterprisemission.com/weblog/weblog.htm

20)  W. Clavin "NASA's Spitzer and Deep Impact Build Recipe for Comet Soup" 7th Septmber 2005  http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2005-144  With thanks to Monika Myers

21)  World Science "No “typical” comets, astronomers suggest based on comet-shoot study" 12th September 2005, http://www.world-science.net/othernews/050906_tempel1frm.htm

22) Claire Bates  "'Widespread water' found on the Moon, opening the way for man to live there full-time" Daily Mail, 24/9/09

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1215721/Water-moon--Indias-lunar-mission-detects-it.html#ixzz0S1TxnrKX

23) Lunar Prospector Data Maps  http://lunar.arc.nasa.gov/dataviz/datamaps/index.html

24) The Los Alamos Built Spectrometers http://lunar.lanl.gov/pages/spectros.html

25) Lunar Prospector Reduced Spectrometer Data  http://pds-geosciences.wustl.edu/missions/lunarp/reduced.html

26)  BBC Radio 4 News, 10pm 24/9/09

27)  Andy Lloyd, 'The Dark Star -The Planet X Evidence', Timeless Voyager Press 2005

28) Ian Sample "Moon Crash Landing Fails to Raise Dust" The Guardian, 10/10/09, p5

29) "NASA finds frozen water on the moon" 13/11/09 http://www2.canada.com/nanaimodailynews/news/story.html?id=2219767

30)  'P.M.', BBC Radio 4, 13/11/09

31) 'Large Amounts of Water on Moon' BBC News, 13/11/09, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8359744.stm, includes a video clip of the LCROSS impact

32)  Jonas Dino, 'LCROSS' http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LCROSS/main/prelim_water_results.html with thanks to Lee

Planets adapted from images on this webpage http://www.loonygames.com/content/1.35/pop/index2.php