New studies suggest Moon far richer in water than previously thought

There may be far more water on the Moon than previously thought, according to two studies published today, raising the tantalizing prospect that astronauts on future space missions could find refreshment — and maybe even fuel — on the lunar surface.

The Moon was believed to be bone dry until around a decade ago, when a series of findings suggested that our nearest celestial neighbor has traces of water trapped in the surface.

The full moon rises on the sky in Gaza City, September 1, 2020. (AP Photo/ Hatem Moussa)

Two new studies published in Nature Astronomy suggest that there could be much more water than previously thought, including ice stored in permanently shadowed “cold traps” at lunar polar regions.

Previous research has found indications of water by scanning the surface — but these were unable to distinguish between water (H2O) and hydroxyl, a molecule made up of one hydrogen atom and one oxygen atom.

A new study provides further chemical proof that the Moon holds molecular water, even in sunlit areas.

Researchers believe the water might be trapped in glass beads, or another substance that protects it from the harsh lunar environment, co-author Casey Honniball, of the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, tells AFP, adding that further observations will help better understand where the water may have come from and how it is stored.

“If we find the water is abundant enough in certain locations we may be able to use it as a resource for human exploration,” Honniball says. “It could be used as drinking water, breathable oxygen, and rocket fuel.”


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