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What's up in October: Mars will put on a dazzling show – pressherald.com

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SKY GUIDE:  This chart represents the sky as it appears over Maine during October.  The stars are shown as they appear at 10:30 p.m. early in the month,  at 9:30 p.m. at midmonth and at 8:30 p.m. at month’s end.  Mars, Saturn and Jupiter are shown in their midmonth positions.  To use the map, hold it vertically and turn it so that the direction you are facing is at the bottom.  Sky chart prepared by George Ayers

October is when famous flaming foliage peaks for us in New England each year. Just as autumn is now transforming our landscape and cooling our air, the sky above is also changing as fall and winter constellations are rotating into view to set the stage for a new season.

This month brings with it more than the usual share of interesting highlights. The bonus this particular October will be Mars at its most dazzling in 17 years. Then you have Jupiter and Saturn getting a little closer each night, Uranus at opposition in Aries, two full moons including a blue moon on Halloween, an asteroid named Flora at opposition, the usual close conjunctions of the moon with some of the planets, a very close conjunction of Venus and Regulus, and favorable conditions for not one, but two meteor showers – the Draconids on the Oct. 8 and the Orionids on Oct. 21.

Mars will be the magnificent star on our celestial stage for all of this month. It doubled in brightness last month as the earth was rapidly catching up with the red planet in our respective orbits, and now that we have caught it, it will even outshine Jupiter. Mars will be closest to Earth on the Oct. 6 and it will reach opposition on Oct. 13, when it will rise at sunset and not set until sunrise. This only happens once every 26 months, based on how we both orbit the sun, but some of these oppositions can be much better than others. This will be one of the best. Although not as close as the last one in July of 2018, which was a perihelic opposition, meaning that its perihelion or closest approach to the sun coincided with its closest approach to Earth, this one will be fully 30 degrees higher above our horizon, allowing for much better views of our neighboring and still mysterious planet.

Mars will be 39 million miles away at this opposition. To put that into a good comparison scale to picture it and not just think of a number, that is the equivalent of about 5,000 earth diameters. The earth is 8,000 miles in diameter and 25,000 miles in circumference. The sun is nearly 12,000 earth diameters away on the average. The moon is just 30 earth-diameters away. Mars will even outshine Jupiter for a while this month and its apparent diameter will reach 22 arc seconds of the sky, or nearly half a minute. 30 arc minutes is half a degree, which is the size of the full moon and the sun.

The last good opposition before the July 2018 perihelic opposition was on Aug. 27, 2003. That was the closest approach of Mars in nearly 60,000 years, about the time modern humans started migrating east out of Africa. Mars was only 35 million miles away then, but a long-standing rumor started circulating on the web then that Mars would become as large as the full moon in our sky. Mars, which is half the size of the earth, would have had to get within just 83 earth diameters instead of the actual 5,000 earth diameters. That is about 60 times closer than it actually got. It might have been an honest mistake if they just mixed up arc seconds and arc minutes, which is a factor of 60. In any case, it is a good exercise in understanding relative size and scale of some of our nearby neighbors in our solar system.

You will still need a telescope to enjoy all the features now visible on Mars during this great opposition. Look for dark markings and both the north and south polar icecaps. The south polar cap is mostly frozen carbon dioxide, or dry ice. It is summer at the South Pole now, so it will be smaller than usual. I already saw some of these markings through several telescopes at our club’s last event a few weeks ago. Not many of us showed up, but it was good to see everyone again “live” outside and with masks on. We also enjoyed great views of Jupiter and Saturn and many popular favorite celestial objects like the Andromeda Galaxy and the great globular cluster in Hercules along with several nice planetary nebulae, which is a look into the distant future of what our own sun will turn into when it finally runs out of fuel in about 5 billion years.

You may even see the faint outline of Olympus Mons, the biggest volcano in the entire solar system, fully three times the height of Mt. Everest at 90,000 feet or 17 miles high. The whole mound covers the size of France. Then you may also see one or both of the small Martian moons, Phobos and Deimos, which means Fear and Terror. Phobos is slightly larger and brighter, but it is very close to the planet at only 3,700 miles, so it is hard to see over the glare of Mars. Phobos is about 14 miles in diameter and Deimos is only 8 miles across. Deimos is much farther away from Mars, so it is easier to see. Based on what we know about gravity and orbital mechanics, Phobos is getting a little closer to Mars each year and in about 50 million years it will either crash into Mars or be torn up by its gravity into a ring of rubble.

While you are enjoying this close opposition of Mars, be aware that three different countries have recently successfully launched a whole armada of scientific exploratory missions. NASA has the Perseverance Rover with a drone that will fly in the very thin Martian atmosphere, the United Arab Emirates have HOPE, which will just orbit Mars and not land, then China has Tianwen 1, which means “questions to heaven.” That is the heaviest payload ever launched to Mars and contains an orbiter, a lander and a rover. So humans will have invaded Mars remotely by late winter of 2021, instead of the Martians invading us. The result will be a lot of great scientific data and a much deeper understanding of this planet which will better prepare us for sending humans there safely in just 15 more years.

So dust off your telescopes or borrow one from a library or a friend or an astronomy club and enjoy this rare showing of Mars. The next time it will be this close and high in our sky will be in 2035, just about the time NASA has scheduled the first humans to land on Mars.

Both Jupiter and Saturn are now back to their direct or eastward motion. They are both easily visible high in the south as soon as it gets dark enough, before any other stars become visible. Watch how the closer and faster-moving Jupiter is catching up with Saturn. That will culminate on the winter solstice, when they will be just a quarter of a degree apart, their closest conjunction in about 400 years, since the invention of the telescope and modern science began.

The planet Uranus will reach opposition in Aries on Halloween. It will reach a magnitude of 5.7, so it should even be visible without binoculars. It will cover just 3.8 arc seconds of the sky, or 6 times smaller than Mars. It is tilted 97.8 degrees on it axis, so it appears to be rolling along the ecliptic. It exhibits a lovely pale blue color in a telescope.

Venus will pass within half a degree of Regulus in Leo on Oct. 2. That is the width of the full moon. I could see the star Regulus in the daytime very close to the sun along with several planets that instantly popped into view when it was completely covered by the moon during the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. I drove all the way to eastern Idaho to see that and it was well worth every second of my trip. Everyone should see a total solar eclipse at least once in their lifetimes. You will learn more about the sun, moon, and planets and the inner workings of our solar system during those few brief moments of being immersed in the moon’s shadow than you ever could by just studying math and physics or watching movies of eclipses.

The Orionid meteor shower will peak on Wednesday, Oct. 21 at around 2 a.m. The conditions are favorable this year with no moonlight to see 15 meteors per hour from a dark sky site. These are tiny, sand grain-sized pieces of Halley’s Comet disintegrating high in our atmosphere at 148,000 mph, or twice the speed that the earth is always orbiting the sun.

The radiant of this shower is in the club of Orion. So you could picture Orion the mighty hunter hurling these meteors at the earth or batting them towards us with his club. Halley’s Comet also causes the Eta Aquarids on May 5 each year. The entire comet will not return again until 2062.

Oct.1: The full moon is at 5:06 p.m. This is also called the famous Harvest Moon because it is closer to the equinox than last month’s full moon was. The Yerkes 40 inch refracting telescope was dedicated on this day in 1897. Designed by George Ellery Hale, it was the largest telescope in the world at the time and is still the largest refractor in the world even now.

Oct. 2: Mars will rise with the moon tonight right after sunset. Venus will pass within half a degree of Regulus this morning.

Oct. 4: On this day in 1957, Sputnik 1 was launched by the Russians.

Oct. 8: The Draconid meteor shower peaks tonight.

Oct. 9: The last quarter moon is at 8:41 p.m.

Oct. 13: Mars is at opposition.

Oct. 14: Venus rises close to the waning crescent moon this morning around 4 a.m.

Oct. 16: The new moon is at 3:32 p.m.

Oct. 21: The Orionid meteor shower peaks at 2 a.m.

Oct. 23: The first quarter moon is at 9:24 a.m.

Oct 31: On this date in 2005, the Hubble Space Telescope discovered two more moons of Pluto, Nix and Hydra. The second full moon of this month, also called a Blue Moon, happens at 10:50 a.m.

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“Our Water Moon” –NASA’s Lunar Discovery – The Daily Galaxy –Great Discoveries Channel

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Moon South Pole

Our Moon has yielded some long-held secrets in recent weeks, from possible evidence of ancient life on Venus to NASA’s new discovery of large deposits of water.

Fragments of Ancient Venus Life?

Research by Yale astronomers suggests that our Moon –formed bout 4.51 billion years ago from debris left over after a giant impact between Earth and a Mars-sized body called Theia– may harbor clues that our nearest planetary neighbor, Venus, may have had an Earth-like environment billions of years ago, with water and a thin atmosphere. “Pieces of Venus — perhaps billions of them — are likely to have crashed on the moon,” suggest astronomers Sam Cabot and Greg Laughlin, as asteroids and comets slammed into Venus over the eons dislodging as many as 10 billion rocks and sent them into an orbit that intersected with Earth and Earth’s moon.

A Watery Moon

A new discovery announced today by NASA revealed that observations by the SOFIA telescope and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter showed signs of water in the sun-baked lunar soil, as well as in small, dark craters that go beyond past discoveries of significant deposits of water at the large, permanently shadowed craters at its poles. The new discovery that water may be distributed across the lunar surface, and not limited to cold, shadowed places sets the stage for a manned radiation-hardened moon base –where, as our Blue Planet proves, there is water, there can be life.

SOFIA Detects Water Molecules at Clavius Crater

“Prior to the SOFIA observations, we knew there was some kind of hydration. But we didn’t know how much, if any, was actually water molecules – like we drink every day – or something more like drain cleaner,” said Casey Honniball, a NASA Postdoctoral Program fellow at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center and a researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and the lead author of the study, Molecular water detected on the sunlit Moon by SOFIA, published in Nature Astronomy, who used infrared instruments onboard SOFIA to study the sunlit lunar surface.

The observations, which spanned a mere 10 minutes, focused on a region at high southern latitudes near the moon’s large crater, Clavius, and they revealed a strong infrared emission at a wavelength of six microns (µm) from the crater and the surrounding landscape. Warmed by the sun, something on the lunar surface was reemitting the absorbed radiation just as molecular water—plain H2O—would.

“Clues to Alien Life” –Billions of Fragments of Venus May Exist on the Moon

NASA revealed that SOFIA detected water molecules (H2O) in Clavius Crater (shown below along with an image of NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy –SOFIA), one of the largest craters visible from Earth, located in the Moon’s southern hemisphere. Previous observations of the Moon’s surface detected some form of hydrogen, but were unable to distinguish between water and its close chemical relative, hydroxyl (OH). Data from this location reveal water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million – roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water – trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread across the lunar surface.

"Our Water Moon" --NASA's Lunar Discovery"Our Water Moon" --NASA's Lunar Discovery

H2O on Sunlit Side

“We had indications that H2O – the familiar water we know – might be present on the sunlit side of the Moon,” said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Now we know it is there. This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about resources relevant for deep space exploration.”

As a comparison, the Sahara desert has 100 times the amount of water than what SOFIA detected in the lunar soil. Despite the small amounts, the discovery raises new questions about how water is created and how it persists on the harsh, airless lunar surface.

Under NASA’s Artemis program, the agency is eager to learn all it can about the presence of water on the Moon in advance of sending the first woman and next man to the lunar surface in 2024 and establishing a sustainable human presence there by the end of the decade.

Apollo Missions’ Dry Moon –H2O or OH?

SOFIA’s results build on years of previous research examining the presence of water on the Moon. When the Apollo astronauts first returned from the Moon in 1969, it was thought to be completely dry. Orbital and impactor missions over the past 20 years, such as NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, confirmed ice in permanently shadowed craters around the Moon’s poles. Meanwhile, several spacecraft – including the Cassini mission and Deep Impact comet mission, as well as the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 mission – and NASA’s ground-based Infrared Telescope Facility, looked broadly across the lunar surface and found evidence of hydration in sunnier regions. Yet those missions were unable to definitively distinguish the form in which it was present – either H2O or OH.

[embedded content]

Scientists using NASA’s telescope on an airplane, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, discovered water on a sunlit surface of the Moon for the first time. SOFIA is a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft that allows astronomers to study the solar system and beyond in ways that are not possible with ground-based telescopes. Molecular water, H2O, was found in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth in the Moon’s southern hemisphere. This discovery indicates that water may be distributed across the lunar surface, and not limited to cold, shadowed places.

SOFIA’s Infrared Zooms in on Clavius Crater

SOFIA offered a new means of looking at the Moon. Flying at altitudes of up to 45,000 feet, this modified Boeing 747SP jetliner with a 106-inch diameter telescope reaches above 99% of the water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere to get a clearer view of the infrared universe. Using its Faint Object infraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST), SOFIA was able to pick up the specific wavelength unique to water molecules, at 6.1 microns, and discovered a relatively surprising concentration in sunny Clavius Crater.

“Without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface should just be lost to space,” said Honniball, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Yet somehow we’re seeing it. Something is generating the water, and something must be trapping it there.”

Several Forces at Play

Several forces could be at play in the delivery or creation of this water. Micrometeorites raining down on the lunar surface, carrying small amounts of water, could deposit the water on the lunar surface upon impact. Another possibility is there could be a two-step process whereby the Sun’s solar wind delivers hydrogen to the lunar surface and causes a chemical reaction with oxygen-bearing minerals in the soil to create hydroxyl. Meanwhile, radiation from the bombardment of micrometeorites could be transforming that hydroxyl into water.

Emergence of Life –“Played an Important Role on Evolution of the Moon”

How the water then gets stored – making it possible to accumulate – also raises some intriguing questions. The water could be trapped into tiny beadlike structures in the soil that form out of the high heat created by micrometeorite impacts. Another possibility is that the water could be hidden between grains of lunar soil and sheltered from the sunlight – potentially making it a bit more accessible than water trapped in beadlike structures.

“Accidental Discovery” –A Test Observation

For a mission designed to look at distant, dim objects such as black holes, star clusters, and galaxies, SOFIA’s spotlight on Earth’s nearest and brightest neighbor was a departure from business as usual. The telescope operators typically use a guide camera to track stars, keeping the telescope locked steadily on its observing target. But the Moon is so close and bright that it fills the guide camera’s entire field of view. With no stars visible, it was unclear if the telescope could reliably track the Moon. To determine this, in August 2018, the operators decided to try a test observation.

“It was, in fact, the first time SOFIA has looked at the Moon, and we weren’t even completely sure if we would get reliable data, but questions about the Moon’s water compelled us to try,” said Naseem Rangwala, SOFIA’s project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “It’s incredible that this discovery came out of what was essentially a test, and now that we know we can do this, we’re planning more flights to do more observations.”

SOFIA’s follow-up flights will look for water in additional sunlit locations and during different lunar phases to learn more about how the water is produced, stored, and moved across the Moon. The data will add to the work of future Moon missions, such as NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), to create the first water resource maps of the Moon for future human space exploration.

In the same issue of Nature Astronomy, scientists have published a paper using theoretical models and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter data, pointing out that water could be trapped in small shadows, where temperatures stay below freezing, across more of the Moon than currently expected. The results can be found here.

“Farside Wakeup” –One of Largest Impacts in Solar System Rang the Moon to ‘Life’

“Water is a valuable resource, for both scientific purposes and for use by our explorers,” said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “If we can use the resources at the Moon, then we can carry less water and more equipment to help enable new scientific discoveries.”

Image at top of page: a multi-temporal illumination map of the lunar south pole, Shackleton crater (19 km diameter) is in the center, the south pole is located approximately at 9 o’clock on its rim. The map was created from images from the camera aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The South Pole is also a good target for a future human landing because robotically, it’s the most thoroughly investigated region on the Moon. (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University).

“We know the South Pole region contain water ice and may be rich in other resources based on our observations from orbit, but, otherwise, it’s a completely unexplored world,” said Steven Clarke, deputy associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The South Pole is far from the Apollo landing sites clustered around the equator, so it will offer us a new challenge and a new environment to explore as we build our capabilities to travel farther into space.”

The Daily Galaxy, Jake Burba, via Nature Astronomy and NASA 

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There could be lots of water on the moon, new studies suggest – CBC.ca

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The moon lacks oceans and lakes that are a hallmark of Earth, but scientists said on Monday lunar water is more widespread than previously known. Water molecules are trapped within mineral grains on the surface and more water may be hidden in ice patches residing in permanent shadows, they said.

While research 11 years ago indicated water was relatively widespread in small amounts on the moon, a team of scientists is now reporting the first definite detection of water molecules on the lunar surface. At the same time, another team is reporting that the moon possesses roughly 40,000 square kilometres of permanent shadows that could harbour hidden pockets of water in the form of ice.

Water is a precious resource and a relatively plentiful lunar presence could prove important to future astronaut and robotic missions seeking to extract and utilize water for purposes such as a drinking supply or a fuel ingredient.

A team led by Casey Honniball of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland detected molecular water on the lunar surface, trapped within natural glasses or between debris grains. Previous observations have suffered from ambiguity between water and its molecular cousin hydroxyl, but the new detection used a method that yielded unambiguous findings. The results were published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The only way for this water to survive on the sunlit lunar surfaces where it was observed was to be embedded within mineral grains, protecting it from the frigid and foreboding environment. The researchers used data from the SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) airborne observatory, a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified to carry a telescope.

“A lot of people think that the detection I’ve made is water ice, which is not true. It’s just the water molecules — because they’re so spread out they don’t interact with each other to form water ice or even liquid water,” Honniball said.

The second study, also published in the journal Nature Astronomy, focused upon so-called cold traps on the moon, regions of its surface that exist in a state of perpetual darkness where temperatures are below 163 degrees. In those temperatures, frozen water can remain stable for billions of years.

Using data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, researchers led by planetary scientist Paul Hayne of the University of Colorado, Boulder detected what may be tens of billions of shadows, many no bigger than a small coin. Most are located in the polar regions.

“Our research shows that a multitude of previously unknown regions of the moon could harbour water ice,” Hayne said. “Our results suggest that water could be much more widespread in the moon’s polar regions than previously thought, making it easier to access, extract and analyze.”

A high resolution mosaic of our moon’s north polar region is seen in this undated handout image taken by scientists using cameras aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). A new study finds there are 40,000 square kilometres of shadows, mostly near the moon’s poles, that could hide ice deposits. (Arizona State University/GSFC/NASA/Reuters)

NASA is planning a return of astronauts to the moon, a mission envisioned as paving the way for a later journey carrying a crew to Mars. Accessible sources where water can be harvested on the moon would beneficial to those endeavours.

“Water is not just constrained to the polar region. It’s more spread out than we thought it was,” Honniball said.

Another mystery that remains unsolved is the source of the lunar water.

“The origin of water on the moon is one of the big-picture questions we are trying to answer through this and other research,” Hayne said. “Currently, the major contenders are comets, asteroids or small interplanetary dust particles, the solar wind, and the moon itself through outgassing from volcanic eruptions.”

Earth is a wet world, with vast salty oceans, large freshwater lakes and ice caps that serve as water reservoirs.

“As our closest planetary companion, understanding the origins of water on the moon can also shed light on the origins of Earth’s water — still an open question in planetary science,” Hayne added.

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NASA says there is definitely water on the moon – Al Jazeera English

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NASA scientists announce the first unambiguous detection of water molecules on the lunar surface – a breakthrough that could help facilitate an eventual crewed mission to Mars.

The moon lacks the bodies of liquid water that are a hallmark of Earth, but NASA scientists said on Monday that lunar water is more widespread than previously known, with water molecules trapped within mineral grains on the surface and more water perhaps hidden in ice patches residing in permanent shadows.

While research 11 years ago indicated water was relatively widespread in small amounts on the moon, a team of scientists is now reporting the first unambiguous detection of water molecules on the lunar surface. At the same time, another team is reporting that the moon possesses roughly 40,000sq km (15,400sq miles) of permanent shadows that potentially could harbour hidden pockets of water in the form of ice.

Water is a precious resource and a relatively plentiful lunar presence could prove important to future astronaut and robotic missions seeking to extract and utilise water for purposes such as providing a drinking supply or a fuel ingredient.

A high-resolution mosaic of our moon’s north polar region is seen in this undated handout image taken by scientists using cameras aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter [File: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University/Handout via Reuters]

A team led by Casey Honniball of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland detected molecular water on the lunar surface, trapped within natural glasses or between debris grains. Previous observations have suffered from ambiguity between water and its molecular cousin hydroxyl, but the new detection used a method that yielded unambiguous findings.

The only way for this water to survive on the sunlit lunar surfaces where it was observed was to be embedded within mineral grains, protecting it from the frigid and foreboding environment. The researchers used data from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified to carry a telescope and serve as an airborne observatory.

“A lot of people think that the detection I’ve made is water ice, which is not true. It’s just the water molecules – because they’re so spread out they don’t interact with each other to form water ice or even liquid water,” Honniball said.

The second study, also published in the journal Nature Astronomy, focused upon so-called cold traps on the moon, regions of its surface that exist in a state of perpetual darkness where temperatures are below -163C (-260F). That is cold enough that frozen water can remain stable for billions of years.

Using data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, researchers led by planetary scientist Paul Hayne of the University of Colorado, Boulder detected what may be tens of billions of small shadows, many no bigger than a small coin. Most are located in the polar regions.

“Our research shows that a multitude of previously unknown regions of the moon could harbour water ice,” Hayne said. “Our results suggest that water could be much more widespread in the moon’s polar regions than previously thought, making it easier to access, extract and analyse.”

NASA is planning a return of astronauts to the moon, a mission envisioned as paving the way for a later journey carrying a crew to Mars. Accessible sources where water can be harvested on the moon would beneficial to those endeavours.

“Water is not just constrained to the polar region. It’s more spread out than we thought it was,” Honniball said.

Another mystery that remains unsolved is the source of the lunar water.

“The origin of water on the moon is one of the big-picture questions we are trying to answer through this and other research,” Hayne said. “Currently, the major contenders are comets, asteroids or small interplanetary dust particles, the solar wind, and the moon itself through outgassing from volcanic eruptions.”

Earth is a wet world, with vast salty oceans, large freshwater lakes and ice caps that serve as water reservoirs.

“As our closest planetary companion, understanding the origins of water on the moon can also shed light on the origins of Earth’s water – still an open question in planetary science,” Hayne added.

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