If the Moon has enough water, and if it’s reasonably convenient to access, future explorers might be able to use it as a resource.
Credit: NASA/GSFCCredit: NASA/GSFC

The Earth’s Moon may offer more water than previously thought – a resource that is widely distributed across the surface and is not confined to a particular region or type of terrain.

Tapping that lunar water could help sustain future Moon explorers, using it as drinking water or processing the water into hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel or oxygen to breathe.

Orbiter data

Remote-sensing data from lunar orbiters have revealed spectral features consistent with the presence of OH or H2O on the lunar surface.

“We find that it doesn’t matter what time of day or which latitude we look at, the signal indicating water always seems to be present,” said Joshua Bandfield, a senior research scientist with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and lead author of the new study published in Nature Geoscience. “The presence of water doesn’t appear to depend on the composition of the surface,” he explains, “and the water sticks around.”

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)..
Credit: NASA/Goddard Science Visualization Studio (SVS)

Bandfield and colleagues came up with a new way to incorporate temperature information, creating a detailed model from measurements made by the Diviner instrument on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO.

The team applied this temperature model to data gathered earlier by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3), a U.S.-supplied visible and infrared spectrometer that flew on India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter.

Scientific instruments

Chandrayaan-1 in Sanskrit (language of Ancient India) means “Moon Craft.” It was India’s first mission to Moon, launched on October 22, 2008 and carried 11 scientific instruments built in India, USA, UK, Germany, Sweden and Bulgaria. The satellite made more than 3400 orbits around the moon and the mission was concluded when the communication with the spacecraft was lost on August 29, 2009.

Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3), a U.S.-supplied visible and infrared spectrometer that flew on India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter.
Credit: NASA/JPL

The Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment is one of seven instruments aboard NASA’s still operating LRO which was launched on June 18, 2009. It is the first instrument to create detailed day and night surface temperature maps of the Moon.

Reactive relative

Regardless of the specific composition or formation mechanism, the researchers have concluded that OH/H2O can be present on the Moon under thermal conditions “more wide-ranging than previously recognized.”

According to a NASA statement: “The new finding of widespread and relatively immobile water suggests that it may be present primarily as OH, a more reactive relative of H2O that is made of one oxygen atom and one hydrogen atom. OH, also called hydroxyl, doesn’t stay on its own for long, preferring to attack molecules or attach itself chemically to them. Hydroxyl would therefore have to be extracted from minerals in order to be used.”

The water appears to be present day and night, though it’s not necessarily easily accessible.

Access to the Moon’s resources could help sustain future human exploration.
Credit: ESA – AOES Medialab

What’s the source?

Remaining a head scratcher is what the findings suggest about the source of the Moon’s water. The new results point toward OH and/or H2O being created by solar wind hitting the lunar surface.

However, the research team doesn’t rule out that OH and/or H2O could come from the Moon itself, slowly released from deep inside minerals where it has been locked since the Moon was formed.

 

 

 

The paper in Nature Geoscience is available at:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41561-018-0065-0

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