Scientists say they have found a new “reservoir” of water on the Moon.
The findings could have significant consequences both for our understanding of our nearest neighbour and also for space missions that could use it as a habitat. The billions of tonnes of water that is spread across the lunar surface could be used by astronauts who intend to leave on the Moon – and use it as a base to head further into the solar system.
The researchers found that soils gathered and returned from Chang’e 5, a Chinese lunar lander, included impact glass beads that contain some water.
The beads are probably from a reservoir of water, scientists suggest, and play an important part in the water cycle on the lunar surface.
Scientists are almost certain that there is water ice on the Moon. Though there is a lot less water than on Earth, most of the Moon’s surface is thought to include some water.
But there remains some uncertainty in how exactly that water behaves once it is on the Moon. It appears to change through the day and is lost to space, which suggests there should be some sort of storage in the soil.
But previous studies of the lunar soil – looking at grains and rocks– have been unable to explain how or where that water is being stored. As such, researchers believe that there must be some other explanation for how the water is being stored.
Now researchers believe that reservoir could be glass beads, which together may hold billions of tonnes of water. Those impact glass beads are made when meteoroids hit the Moon, throwing up hot molten droplets than then turn solid and join the dust on the Moon.
They then function as a sponge, soaking up water and powering the water cycle on the lunar surface. They not only store that water but also release it into space, scientists suggest.
In all they could be storing as much as 270 billion tonnes of water, the researchers say.
The findings are described in a new paper, ‘A solar wind-derived water reservoir on the Moon hosted by impact glass beads’, published in Nature Geoscience.
The findings may prove useful to the variety of space agencies that are planning to build human habitats on the Moon, but will need to find sustainable ways of gathering water and other resources to do so. As well as allowing for better research on the Moon, such habitats could serve as a base for missions to Mars, space agencies such as Nasa have suggested.
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