Data from the SwRI-led LAMP instrument aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter indicate that water molecules scattered on the surface of the Moon are more common at higher latitudes and tend to hop around as the surface heats up. Characterizing the water on the Moon is critical to planning future exploration.
Courtesy of NASA/JPL/USGS

An instrument onboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) indicates that water molecules scattered on the surface of the Moon are more common at higher latitudes and tend to hop around as the surface heats up.

“These results aid in understanding the lunar water cycle and will ultimately help us learn about accessibility of water that can be used by humans in future missions to the Moon,” said Amanda Hendrix, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute.

Hot topic

The findings have been reported in the Hendrix-led paper – “Diurnally‐Migrating Lunar Water: Evidence from Ultraviolet Data” — published in the American Geophysical Union’s Geophysical Research Letters.

LRO-carried Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP).
Credit: NASA/SwRI

“This is an important new result about lunar water, a hot topic as our nation’s space program returns to a focus on lunar exploration,” said SwRI’s Kurt Retherford, the principal investigator of the LRO LAMP instrument.

“We recently converted the LAMP’s light collection mode to measure reflected signals on the lunar dayside with more precision,” Retherford said, “allowing us to track more accurately where the water is and how much is present.”

Surface water

According to a SwRI press statement, up until the last decade or so, scientists thought the Moon was arid, with any water existing mainly as pockets of ice in permanently shaded craters near the poles.

However, more recently, scientists have identified surface water in sparse populations of molecules bound to the lunar soil, or regolith. The amount and locations vary based on the time of day. This water is more common at higher latitudes and tends to hop around as the surface heats up.

A source of water on the Moon could help make future crewed missions more sustainable and affordable.
Credit: RegoLight, visualization: Liquifer Systems Group, 2018

As rough, irregularly shaped grains heat up over the course of a day, the molecules detach from the regolith and hop across the surface until they find another location cold enough to stick.

“A source of water on the Moon could help make future crewed missions more sustainable and affordable,” Hendrix explains. “Lunar water can potentially be used by humans to make fuel or to use for radiation shielding or thermal management; if these materials do not need to be launched from Earth, that makes these future missions more affordable”

To review the paper — “Diurnally‐Migrating Lunar Water: Evidence from Ultraviolet Data” – go to:

https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1029/2018GL081821

 

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