New Research Suggests the Moon Has Widespread Water
Now that there's talk of going back to the Moon at some point, perhaps to even set up a more longterm colony, this raises the question of how to make a lunar colony sustainable.
According to NASA and a new study published in Nature Geoscience, this may be easier than we thought, as water appears to be much more evenly spread around the Moon than anyone had guessed previously. By analyzing data from two different lunar missions, researchers managed to find traces of H2O or OH (called "hydroxyl"), a more reactive form of H2O that would have to be extracted from minerals.
We've known for sometime that the Moon contains at least some water, but previous studies pointed to water being mostly present by the Moon's north and south poles, with only small amounts running through areas like emptied lava tubes.
It's tricky because the methods for locating water on the moon rely on measuring the strength of sunlight reflected off the Moon's surface, which is changed by the presence of water. But the Moon can sometimes grow hot enough that it "glows" and produces its own light, which throws off measurements in the hunt for water.
The new research used data from both NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and their Moon Mineralogy Mapper spectrometer, which helped them create a means of measuring reflected sunlight that could see through the Moon's glowing. And they suddenly found there was more water than they'd anticipated.
According to Joshua Bandfield, lead author on the study and senior research scientist with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, who said the following in a press release from NASA:
Water, water, everywhere, but is there a drop to drink? Data from 2 lunar missions finds evidence that the Moon's water is widely distributed across the surface. If the Moon has enough accessible , it could be an essential resource to future explorers: https://t.co/4NuyjtO4uS pic.twitter.com/VlkTTKJqcp— NASA (@NASA) February 24, 2018
There are still a lot of questions that need to be solved before we just send off a new team of astronauts and tell them to drink whatever they find on the lunar surface. The nature of the water is still unclear (knowing whether we're picking up signs of water or hydroxyl is an important distinction) and how easily accessible it is. Just because it's everywhere doesn't mean it isn't tough to extract, and the research suggests that water wouldn't be loosely attached to the surface.
But it's a start. Eventually we might be able to send off astronauts and tell them to drink whatever they find on the lunar surface. Just not yet.