Water on the Moon: Is Getting It Easier Than We Think?

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If you didn’t know beforehand: Yes, there is water on the moon. According to NASA estimates, there are up to 600 million metric tons Of frozen water there, which could someday be a catalyst for establishing lunar colonies. It may even be converted into an affordable form of rocket fuel. All that requires is broken down into oxygen and hydrogen, and we have spaceflight fuel.

Unfortunately, however, we have never known how much water is actually on the moon, where this water is located, or even how to access it and extract it. Nor did scientists really understand how the water appeared there in the first place.

These questions remain unanswered, but two new studies – recently published in Nature Space – indicate that the water on the moon is not hidden to the degree that we previously thought.

Water on the Moon: The Secret in Glass

Announced The first study On the discovery of water particles on lunar surfaces exposed to sunlight near Clavius ​​Crater, which is 231 kilometers long, thanks to his observations Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (Flying Observatory), or SOFIA for short, Supervised by NASA and the German Aeronautics and Space Center. Scientists have long believed that it is the ever-dark regions of the moon (such as huge craters) that provide the best chance for the water to remain in a stable state. The researchers believed that these areas, and their water naturally, would be protected from the thermal effects of sunlight.

However, scientists found that water is present in daylight on the surface of the moon. Says Casey Honeybull“This is the first time that we can determine, without a doubt, the existence of water molecules on the lunar surface,” a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and lead author of the Sophia study.

Sophia’s observations indicate the presence of water molecules within a glassy granular structure, which allows her to withstand the sunlight she is exposed to. As for the amount of water contained within these glass particles, it is approximately 340 grams distributed within a cubic meter of soil distributed over the entire lunar surface. “We expect the quantities of water to increase as we get closer to the poles,” Honeybull says. But what we observed with Sophia’s help indicates otherwise. ” The particles are found closer to the equator, although they are not likely to be a universal phenomenon.

Sophia is an airborne observatory, and it was built on the basis of a modified Boeing 747 flying through the atmosphere, so its telescope – which has a diameter of about a meter – can detect objects in outer space with the minimum disturbance caused by the water-rich Earth’s atmosphere . This is especially useful for making observations at infrared wavelengths, and in this case has allowed researchers to distinguish between water molecules and hydroxyls on the moon’s surface.

Glass water features on the surface of the moon were previously found in a study of exploration on the moon’s surface in 1969, thanks to observations made by the Ballistic Observatory. However, these operations have not been adequately reported or even publicized. “They probably didn’t realize how important this discovery was,” Honeybull says.

The amount of water contained within these glass particles is somewhat small, which is why it will not be beneficial to humans, but it is possible that concentrations will be much higher in other areas, as it should not be forgotten that the observations focused on one region of the moon only.

Most importantly, these results indicate the possibility of a “lunar water cycle” that could replenish the water reserves on the moon, something that seems almost incomprehensible to a world that has always seemed to us barren and dead. Says Clive Neal“It’s a new area that we haven’t looked at before,” a specialist in planetary geology at the University of Notre Dame, who was not involved in either of the studies.

Smaller shades

Is that The other study It may be more related to NASA’s direct plans for lunar exploration. The new results indicate that the frozen water stocks on the moon are located in what can be called “small cold traps”, whose diameter does not exceed one centimeter. The researchers used new 3D models using thermal images in the infrared and visible field that they captured NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance OrbiterAnd these models show that the temperatures in these small traps are low enough to keep the ice stable. These traps may be responsible for storing 10 to 20% of the water found in all of the permanent dark regions of the moon, with a total area of ​​40,000 square kilometers, and most of it is located in areas closer to the poles.

Says Paul Hine, A planetary scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder, and lead author of the study: “Instead of a handful of huge cold traps in the famous craters, there are whole hordes of small cold traps distributed over the entire polar region. These small traps are easily accessible, compared to large, permanently dark areas. Instead of designing missions to go deep into dark areas, astronauts can stay with their rovers in sunny areas while extracting water from cold traps. ”There may be hundreds of millions, or even billions, of these sites distributed along the lunar surface.

More data, more puzzles

Of course, these studies are not perfect. There is no explanation for how these glassy particles that carry water were formed. Honeybull says the source of this water is most likely meteorites that either formed the water as it collided with the surface, or carried it there as it is, or it could be the result of ancient volcanic activity. Neill points out that Sophia’s study did not provide a complete picture of the relationship between the distribution of glass and latitude, or how this distribution might change over an entire lunar cycle. It is necessary to conduct direct studies to confirm what the two studies indicated, and to answer the questions they pose.

We may not have to wait long for this data; In preparation for the Artemis missions, which are supposed to return astronauts to the surface of the Moon, NASA plans to launch Collection of robotic missions, Which could also help study the water content of the moon. One of the most important of these missions is the Viber mission, which is about Mobile vehicle is supposed to be launched in 2022, With the aim of prospecting for frozen water under the surface of the moon.

In light of the new findings, NASA may choose to modify the goal of the Viber mission, so that it studies surface water as well, takes a closer look at any glass materials in sunny areas or studies the ability of small cold traps to preserve frozen water. It is likely to carry out other missions from NASA, in addition to Missions also run by other countriesBy studying surface water contents more precisely. Neill notes that the lunar observation system would be extremely useful in uncovering the history of water on the moon, and determining how stable (or unstable) water appeared due to a possible lunar water cycle.

“The more closely we look at the moon, the less aware we are of what is happening on it,” says Neil. Now, we have a few more reasons to go back there and study it. If we want to obtain reliable data to study this cycle, we have to reach the surface, get samples, and install monitoring stations there directly. ”

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