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New Lunar Water Reservoir Discovered in Impact Glass Beads by Chinese Scientists

A panoramic shot of the lunar surface taken by the camera of the Chang'e-5 lander. Credit: CLEP

Chang'e-5 Mission Reveals Crucial Data About Lunar Water Sources.

Chinese researchers have identified a new water reservoir in lunar soils, providing valuable insights into the water cycle on the Moon’s surface, a discovery that could significantly impact future space missions.

New Water Reservoir Found in Lunar Soil

Chinese scientists have reported in Nature Geoscience that lunar soils sampled by the Chang’e-5 mission contain water in the form of impact glass beads. The presence of water on the lunar surface has long been a topic of interest due to its potential for in situ resource utilization during future lunar exploration and other space missions. This groundbreaking discovery suggests that these glass beads act as a dynamic water buffer on the Moon, regulating the inflow and outflow of water derived from solar wind.

Lunar Water: Confirmed and Quantified

Numerous lunar missions have confirmed the presence of water in various forms on the Moon, such as structural water or water ice. There is now no doubt that the majority of the lunar surface harbors water, albeit in significantly smaller quantities compared to Earth.

Lunar Surface Water Cycle: A Missing Reservoir

Although the existence of water on the Moon is well-established, past research on lunar soils, volcanic rocks, and pyroclastic glass beads has not been able to account for the mechanisms behind water retention, release, and replenishment on the lunar surface. This suggests that an undiscovered hydrated layer or reservoir within lunar soils is crucial for sustaining the Moon’s surface water cycle.

Impact Glass Beads: The Key to Uncovering Lunar Water Reservoirs

Guided by Professor HU Sen from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Institute of Geology and Geophysics (IGG), doctoral student HE Huicun suggested that impact glass beads, a prevalent element in lunar soils, might offer insights into the unknown hydrated layer within lunar soils. To uncover and characterize the elusive water reservoir on the Moon’s surface, HE Huicun carried out a comprehensive examination of the impact glass beads retrieved during the CE5 mission.

Solar Winds: The Source of Lunar Water

The analysis of the impact glass beads from the CE5 mission revealed that the water within the beads comes from solar winds. The beads demonstrated homogeneous chemical compositions and smooth exposed surfaces, with a negative correlation between water abundance and hydrogen isotopic composition.

A Sponge-Like Buffer for the Lunar Water Cycle

Researchers found that the impact glass beads act like a sponge, buffering the water cycle on the lunar surface. The estimated amount of water contributed by these beads to lunar soils ranges between 3.0 x 10^11 kg and 2.7 x 10^14 kg. According to Professor HU, “These findings indicate that impact glasses on the surface of the Moon and other airless bodies in the solar system are capable of storing water derived from the solar wind and releasing it into space.”

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