NASA Finds Water Molecules Moving on the Moon’s Surface

The discovery is of great importance as lunar water can be used by future human astronauts to creature fuel or even produce radiation shielding equipment, helping turn the moon into a pit stop for future solar system exploration.

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NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted water molecules moving around the moon’s dayside.

The spacecraft sent into orbit around the moon by NASA has been studying the surface of the moon in great detail. One of its goals was to analyze and study the hydration levels on the lunar surface.

“The study is an important step in advancing the water story on the Moon and is a result of years of accumulated data from the LRO mission,” revealed John Keller, LRO deputy project scientist.

A paper published in Geophysical Research Letters describes how Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) measurements of the sparse layer of molecules temporarily stuck to the surface helped characterize lunar hydration changes over the course of a day.

This LRO image of the moon shows areas of potential frost. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Scientific Visualization Studio
This LRO image of the moon shows areas of potential frost. Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Scientific Visualization Studio

“This is an important new result about lunar water, a hot topic as our nation’s space program returns to a focus on lunar exploration,” said Dr. Kurt Retherford, the principal investigator of the LAMP instrument from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

“We recently converted the LAMP’s light collection mode to measure reflected signals on the lunar dayside with more precision, allowing us to track more accurately where the water is and how much is present.”

Not long ago, scientists were convinced that Earth’s moon was a desolate and arid place void of water.

But more recently, scientists have identified surface water in sparse quantities of molecules bound to the lunar soil.

The surface water as found to exist away from the equator, at much higher latitudes Furthermore, it exhibited movement when the surface heated up.

Scientists previously thought that the water molecules were the result of hydrogen ions from solar winds from the sun. This would mean that the water on the moon’s surface should decrease and vary when the moon would enter into Earth’s shadow.

Interestingly, the water observed by LAMP was proven to not decrease when the Moon entered into Earth’s shadow and the region influenced by its magnetic field. This suggests that water on the moon tends to build up over time, and does not rain down from the solar wind.

“These results aid in understanding the lunar water cycle and will ultimately help us learn about the accessibility of water that can be used by humans in future missions to the Moon,” said lead author Amanda Hendrix, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute.

“Lunar water can potentially be used by humans to make fuel or to use for radiation shielding or thermal management; if these materials do not need to be launched from Earth, that makes these future missions more affordable,” Hendrix concluded.

Planetary Science Institute
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