Quirks & Quarks

The moon's a wetter place than we thought, and that could be critical for exploration

Two new studies reveal potential water in permanent shadows and in minerals

Two new studies reveal potential water in permanent shadows and in minerals

Every shadow on the lunar surface is a potential hiding place for water (NASA)

A pair of studies have raised hope that there might be more water on the moon than previously thought, which could be a valuable resource for future explorers and colonists.

Paul Hayne, a planetary scientist at Colorado University, Boulder used data collected by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to identify locations of permanent shadow in the moon's high latitudes. These locations, never be warmed by the sun, would be "cold traps" where water could accumulate as ice and survive for billions of years. 

Even smaller craters could represent locations for water (NASA)

Moonshadow, moonshadow

Hayne's work suggests that about 40,000 square kilometres of the Moon's surface is in permanent shadow, and thus could contain ice.

The water may have arrived on the moon's surface by bombardment from water-rich meteorites, asteroids or comets. It could have also been delivered when hydrogen in the sun's solar wind reacts with oxygen in the moon's rocks. It's also possible that water vapour may still be off-gassing from deep within the moon's interior.  

The Shackleton crater at the south pole is 21 kilometres in diametre and 4.2 kilometres deep (NASA)

A thirst for water, fuel and knowledge

Finding water on the Moon is important for a number of reasons. Water is a vital resource for space exploration, but its very heavy and expensive to transport. Astronauts need it for life support, but It could also be used to make rocket fuel.  Having access to it on the lunar surface could be cost effective and efficient.

There is also scientific interest in the moon's water, as understanding it's source could also help scientists understand how water came to be here on Earth. 

A second study published this week using NASA's SOFIA jumbo-jet mounted flying telescope identified the spectral signature of water in sunlit areas of the moon, likely suggesting there is water trapped inside minerals on the Moon. 

 

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