NASA discovers more water on the moon
Two new studies published in Nature Astronomy on Monday suggest there could be much more water than previously thought, including ice stored in permanently shadowed “cold traps” at lunar polar regions.
“We announced that, for the first time, we’ve confirmed H2O in sunlit areas of the moon. This indicates that water might be distributed across the lunar surface,” NASA tweeted on Monday from its moon-related account.
We just announced that – for the first time – we’ve confirmed H2O💧 in sunlit☀️ areas of the Moon. This indicates that water might be distributed across the lunar surface. https://t.co/Gn0DSu5K95
— NASA Moon (@NASAMoon) October 26, 2020
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, the University of Colorado’s Paul Hayne is reporting that the moon possesses roughly 40,000sq km (15,400sq miles) of permanent shadows that potentially could harbor hidden pockets of water in the form of ice.
That area is roughly 20% larger than previous estimates, he said, adding that temperatures in these so-called cold traps are as low as minus 261 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 163 degrees Celsius), meaning they could hold onto the ice for millions or even billions of years.
The discovery raises the tantalizing prospect that astronauts on future missions could tap into these resources for drinking and making rocket fuel.
“We believe this will help expand the possible landing sites for future lunar missions seeking water, opening up real estate previously considered ‘off-limits’ for being bone dry,” Hayne told The Associated Press.
During a virtual teleconference, co-author Casey Honniball of the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology said: “The amount of water is roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water in a cubic meter of lunar soil.”
“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.
Scientists believe the moon’s water came from comets, asteroids, interplanetary dust, solar wind, or lunar volcanic eruptions. According to Hayne, researchers will have a better understanding of the sources “if we can get down on the surface and analyze samples of the ice.”