The unmanned lunar lander Chang’e 3 left Earth in December 2013 and arrived at the Moon a few days later, touching down in Mare Imbrium. With its primary mission focused on exploration, the spacecraft announced a major discovery last year, uncovering a new type of basaltic rock.
The latest data from Chang’e 3 points to a new discovery – or, at least, a kind of anti-discovery. Its onboard optical telescope has confirmed that there is no liquid water on the Moon.
"We’ve measured the amount of water on the lunar surface and above, but only found the lowest quantities so far, which is in line with the expectations of the experts on the formation of the moon," said Wen Jianyan, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, according to China Daily.
The debate over lunar water has picked up in recent years. Some recent missions have used neutron spectroscopy to analyze the soil and come back with mixed results.
Readings from Chang’e 3’s more accurate optical telescope should put the matter to rest.
The spacecraft has already broken a record for the longest work time of any lunar probe. It has constructed the first geological map of the astral body and sent seven terabytes of data back to Earth.
Just because there’s no water on our moon doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be H2O on other moons in our solar system. Europa, Ganymede, and Enceladus are all promising prospects. Mars is also thought to contain subterranean water that may have once covered the surface.
Last month, scientists used computer models to determine that life could, theoretically, exist on Saturn’s moon Titan, even without the presence of water. The study found that chemicals in the moon’s atmosphere could be the precursor to organic compounds.
"We are not saying we created Titan life in a computer, or even structures that might be in life on Titan," Jonathan Lunine, a planetary scientist at Cornell University, told Space.com. "We are saying that the early steps toward structures, catalysis and absorption of energy might be possible on Titan with polymers like those we modeled.
"We need to go back to Titan and analyze the surface composition and search for polymers."
Sounds like a job for Chang’e 3.