Five quick questions answered about finding water on the Moon

James Marshall
October 28, 2020

"It might be a bit of a dusty drink as the water molecules are likely sheltered within or between tiny lunar grains". The discovery was found using infrared instruments from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

"Our detection shows that water may be more widespread on the surface of the Moon than previously thought and not constrained to only the pole".

We have suspected that the moon has hidden a lot of frozen water ice in craters at the North and South Poles that never see the sun.

Orbital and impactor missions over the past 20 years, such as NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, confirmed ice in permanently shadowed craters around the Moon's poles. The H and the O in H2O, hydrogen and oxygen, are highly reactive when separated and could be used to make rocket fuel right on the moon's surface. Another one says that hydrogen brought by the solar wind could mix with oxygen-bearing minerals in its soil to form a substance called hydroxyl and later turn into water as a result of micrometeorite bombardments. Second, although the amount of water found is a small amount, it raises the question of how water is created, stored, and persists on a rough airless surface such as the moon.

In the past, several studies suggested all water on the moon only existed inside the moon's permanently-shadowed craters.

The discovery made by the United States space agency's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) indicated that water may be distributed across the lunar surface, and not limited to cold, shadowed places.

This means that the Moon has great potential to become a refuelling base for space missions further into the Solar System or beyond.

Hannibal said, "Without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface should just be lost to space". For the first time ever, NASA has confirmed that there is water on the sunlit side of the Moon's surface. Alternatively, the researchers say, the water molecules could be caught between grains of lunar soil that shields them from sunlight.

There's roughly the equivalent of a 350 ml bottle of water in a cubic metre of lunar soil. The scientists also say that water molecules are so spread out that they can not form even ice particles, not to mention liquid water.

Previous research has found indications of water on the sunlit surface, but these were unable to distinguish between water and hydroxyl, a molecule made up of one hydrogen atom and one oxygen atom that is a common drain cleaner.

After NASA's announcement, Twitter's official account wrote,"If the moon can hydrate so can you". This is part of the NASA Artemis program, whose Phase 1 plans, revealed in September 2020, include landing the first woman as well as the next man on the lunar surface in 2024.

Meanwhile, radiation from the bombardment of micrometeorites could be transforming that hydroxyl into water. These so-called cold traps get down to minus 261 degrees Fahrenheit. This discovery indicates that water may be distributed across the lunar surface and not limited to cold places.

With further observations and the next moon rover planning to take samples and create a water map of the moon, a better picture of the moon's water situation will unravel.

This is an interesting juxtaposition to planetary bodies like Ceres and Mars, which have large, continuous areas of ice around the poles. "Something is generating the water, and something must be trapping it there". It may be possible to find ice cream in places that are much easier to get to, e.g.

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