In depth: Yes, there’s water on the Moon and we couldn’t be more excited!
Scientists always thought there was water on the Moon but recent findings have proved that it may be in abundance and at places which were not considered before. A study reports the detection of water on the Moon’s sunlit surface for the first time. It is also found that the Moon’s dark, shadowy regions, which potentially contain ice, are more widespread than thought.
Theories and findings
Till the 1990s, it was assumed that the Moon’s surface was dry but in the 90s, orbiting spacecraft found indications of ice in large and inaccessible craters near the moon’s poles. India had a major finding here. In 2009, imaging spectrometers onboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft recorded signatures consistent with water in light reflecting off the moon’s surface. This proved the presence of water on the Moon. But it was never confirmed whether the detected molecules were water as we know it (H20) or in the form of hydroxyl (OH).
How and where?
The scientists now gathered data by the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (Sofia), a modified Boeing 747 carrying a 2.7-metre reflecting telescope. And it was confirmed that the molecules are indeed H2O. The water was discovered at high latitudes towards the moon’s south pole in abundances of about 100 to 400 parts per million H2O. It was discovered in Clavius Crater in the Moon’s southern hemisphere. And it is the first time water has been detected on the sunlit side, showing it is not restricted to the shadowy regions. It is about as much as is dissolved in the lava flowing out of the Earth’s mid-ocean ridges, which could be harvested to make liquid.
SOFIA will look for water in additional sunlit locations to learn more about how the water is produced, stored, and moved across the Moon. Meanwhile, NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) will carry out a mission to create the first water resource maps of the Moon. The existence of water has implications for future lunar missions. It could be treated and used for drinking; separated into hydrogen and oxygen for use as a rocket propellant; and the oxygen could be used for breathing.
But it’s not easy
It may sound simple but it’s not. It would be almost impossible to dig water from dark, steep-walled craters where the temperature rarely climbs above -230C and where it is believed that the bulk of any frozen water is situated.
Drilling may seem to be the only option and looking at our future missions, that’s not off the card. NASA’s Artemis mission plans to send a male and female astronaut to the moon by 2024. British scientists are also developing a robotic drill to take samples of lunar soil from depths of up to a metre, as part of a Russian mission scheduled for 2025. So would we succeed, only time will tell.