There appears to be more water on the moon than previously thought. According to space researchers, these could simplify future missions to Earth’s satellite and Mars.
By Arthur Landwehr, ARD-Studio Washington
They are probably not large lakes that astronauts could find on the moon. But at least there is more water on Earth’s satellite than previously thought. At least that’s the result of investigations of the lunar surface with an infrared telescope flying around the earth in a converted jumbo at a height of twelve kilometers – where hardly any moisture disturbs the view in space. “The typical fingerprint of water molecules has been discovered,” says Paul Hertz, NASA’s director of astrophysics. The telescope called SOFIA is a joint project between NASA and the German Aerospace Society.
The water at the moon’s south pole, where it is cold and dark, has been known for a long time. But for the warm and sunny side, the rule was previously: dry. “Without a dense atmosphere, the water on the moon’s warm surfaces would simply disappear into space,” says Casey Honniball of the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics.
The origin is still unclear
So how does it get there? How can it hold up? That is why researchers are looking for so-called cold traps, for example very deep craters with eternal shadows. “We believe that the water is trapped in the ground in small glass beads that came from meteorite hits,” Honniball said.
But it is unclear whether the water was able to form on the moon or whether it was brought with it by the impact of the rocks. It is not even much: about a third of a liter on a cubic meter of flooring. The Sahara has 100 times more humidity. And: “What we don’t know yet is whether the water that has now been discovered can really be used,” says Jacob Bleacher, NASA’s chief scientist for manned spaceflight.
Idea: Use deposits for rocket propulsion
This is where the practical questions come into play. NASA wants to get people back to the moon – it is planning its own lunar station from which it could one day depart for Mars. “Water is very heavy. Getting it from Earth into space costs a lot,” Bleacher explains. The goal is not only to use the water on the moon as drinking water, but also to use it to produce hydrogen for rocket propulsion. This creates space for other important things you want to take with you.
Expeditions to the water richest regions of the moon are certainly part of the program of future lunar missions. Being able to use water would also be an important prerequisite to someday using the moon for commercial purposes and establishing the industry there.