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Moon remains a mystery to scientists after three decades of exploration
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  • UDAIPUR, India (AFP) Nov 23, 2004
    Despite more than four decades of lunar missions, the moon remains a mystery to the scientific community, say space experts gathered at an international meeting.

    Questions about the moon's origin, minerals it contains and whether it has water that could support human life, continue to puzzle scientists, they say.

    "The origin of the moon is an open issue. A majority in the community say its creation was due to a giant impact from a Mars-shaped body," said Paul Spudis, planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

    "This is known as the 'giant impact hypothesis,' " he said. "But we don't know yet. The next question is when the impact occurred."

    Spudis was speaking on the sidelines of the five-day International Conference on Exploration and Utilization of the Moon in the northern Indian city of Udaipur.

    "The last big controversy is whether there is water ice out there. Data suggests there are dark areas of water ice. How pure it is and what physical state it is in we do not know," said Spudis.

    Some 200 delegates from 16 countries including the United States, Europe, Japan, Russia and China are attending the conference.

    The conference will issue a declaration on future lunar missions, mainly focusing on whether cooperation is possible between participating nations.

    The United States, Russia and Japan have already carried out missions to the moon and China is planning an unmanned space flight next year.

    A slew of lunar missions are planned by the United States, China, Japan and India. India's unmanned lunar flight, Chandrayaan (Moon Journey) is set for launch by the end of 2007 or early 2008.

    US President George Bush has called for Americans to revisit the moon as early as by 2015 and no later than 2020. No human has set foot on the moon since US astronaut Eugene Cernan in 1972.

    Earlier this month, a small spacecraft made it into lunar orbit, signaling Europe's first successful mission to the moon and paving the way for the craft to be used to study the lunar surface.

    Stuart Ross, professor emeritus at the Australian National University, said the moon remained a major object of scientific scrutiny.

    "All are stumbling to understand it. Attempts are being made to come to grips with the (earth's) satellite," Ross said in an interview. "Nothing great about it is known."

    "No one is sure about its composition, its crust and its history. What we need urgently is to understand its internal structure and particularly its core," Ross said.

    "Studies are on to find out the exact nature of the chemicals present. Has it come from the body which hit it? We do not know yet," he said.

    Indian scientist M.G.K. Menon said understanding the moon would help scientists know the earth and the other planets in the solar system better.

    "If we don't know enough about the moon, it's unlikely we'll know about other planets very easily as they're farther away," said Menon, former director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Bombay.

    "If the moon is a mystery, others (bodies in the solar system) will only be guesswork."

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