Lunar water is more prevalent than believed, new studies show


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

While research from 11 years ago indicated that water was scattered in small quantities 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 has around 40,000km2 of permanent shadows that could potentially harbor pockets of water hidden in the form of ice.

Water is a precious resource, and an abundant lunar presence could prove important for future astronaut and robotics missions seeking to extract and use water for purposes such as a supply of drinking water or a fuel ingredient.

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

The only way for this water to survive on the sunlit lunar surfaces where it was observed was to be incorporated within mineral grains, protecting it from the frigid and eerie environment. The researchers used data from the Sofia Air Observatory, a modified Boeing 747SP to carry a telescope.

“A lot of people think the reading I made is ice water, which is not true. It’s just the water molecules – because they’re so scattered that 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 on so-called cold traps on the moon, regions of its surface that exist in a state of perennial darkness where temperatures are below about -163 ° C. It is cold enough that the 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 have detected what could be tens of billions of tiny shadows, many no larger than a small coin. Most are found in the polar regions.

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

NASA is planning a return of astronauts to the moon, a mission envisioned to pave the way for a subsequent voyage that carries a crew to Mars. Accessible sources where water can be collected on the moon would benefit these efforts.

“Water is not limited to just the polar region. It’s more sparse than we thought, ”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’re trying to answer through this and other research,” Hayne said. “Currently, the contenders are comets, asteroids or small interplanetary dust particles, the solar wind and the moon itself through the degassing of volcanic eruptions.”

Earth is a humid 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 said.


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