There's Water All Over the Moon

Researchers in China find H2O can be pulled from heated impact beads
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 28, 2023 12:03 PM CDT
There's Water All Over the Moon
In this Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020 photo, technicians prepare to weigh a container carrying moon samples retrieved by China's Chang'e 5 lunar lander in Beijing.   (Jin Liwang/Xinhua via AP, File)

New research suggests trillions of gallons of water are spread across the moon—which should be great news for those planning a lunar colony. Though NASA plans to search for water ice at the lunar south pole, there are signs that water isn't restricted to the poles but is instead hidden over the lunar surface, per CNN. Indeed, researchers now say they've found it in tiny glass beads contained within lunar soil retrieved by China's Chang'e 5 in 2020. "This is one of the most exciting discoveries we’ve made," Mahesh Anand, a professor of planetary science at Open University, tells the Guardian. "With this finding, the potential for exploring the moon in a sustainable manner is higher than it's ever been."

The glass beads are formed when meteoroids collide with the moon. As Deutsche Welle reports, "the heat generated by the impact melts the surrounding surface material, which cools into the beads," and these "act like a sponge," swallowing up oxygen molecules present in the moon's rocks and minerals as well as hydrogen molecules emitted by solar wind. Of course, oxygen and hydrogen make water and "there’s evidence that when the temperature of this material goes above [100 degrees Celsius or 212 degrees Fahrenheit], it will start to come out and can be harvested," Anand, co-author of the study published Monday in Nature Geoscience, tells the Guardian. "If you can extract the water and concentrate it in significant quantities, it's up to you how you utilize it."

Researchers believe there are 270 trillion kilograms of water—"the equivalent of 71 trillion gallons"—concealed in the moon's impact beads, per the Wall Street Journal. This resource could be used to provide astronauts with "drinking water, breathable air, and even rocket fuel" in areas far from the poles, according to the outlet. "But we should not over-estimate the amount of water present, which is at most 130 milliliters per cubic meter of lunar soil," cautions Ian Crawford of Birkbeck, University of London. Still, researchers say they could be found on "other airless bodies" in the solar system, including Mercury, per Deutsche Welle. (More moon stories.)

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