posted: 29 June 2009
05:59 pm ET
Uranium exists on the moon, according to new data from a Japanese spacecraft.
The findings are the first conclusive evidence for the presence of the radioactive element in lunar dirt, the researchers said. They announced the discovery recently at the 40th Lunar and Planetary Conference and at the Proceedings of the International Workshop Advances in Cosmic Ray Science.
The revelation suggests that nuclear power plants could be built on the moon, or even that Earth's satellite could serve as a mining source for uranium needed back home.
The Japanese Kaguya spacecraft, which was launched in 2007, detected uranium with a gamma-ray spectrometer. Scientists are using the instrument to create maps of the moon's surface composition, showing the presence of thorium, potassium, oxygen, magnesium, silicon, calcium, titanium and iron.
"We've already gotten uranium results, which have never been reported before," said Robert Reedy, a senior scientist at the Tucson-based Planetary Science Institute, and a member of the Kaguya science team. "We're getting more new elements and refining and confirming results found on the old maps."
The findings could help decide where to build future lunar colonies, since manned outposts will need energy, and could potentially derive it from nuclear power plants.
Furthermore, since uranium supplies on Earth are scarce, mining uranium on the moon to satisfy our energy needs at home could prove lucrative.
Kaguya, officially named SELENE ("Selenological and Engineering Explorer"), crashed into the lunar surface at the end of its mission on June 10.