There's Way More Water On The Moon Than We Used To Think

Three things we all know about the moon: it orbits the Earth, it's got a dark side, and it doesn't have any water. Well, Pink Floyd fans and tide-enthusiasts can rest easy, but the last item on that list is starting to look a bit dicey. That's right, we've found water on the moon — a lot of it.

These images show a very young lunar crater on the side of the Moon that faces away from Earth, as viewed by Chandrayaan-1's Moon Mineralogy Mapper equipment. The blue areas show the water absorption strength.

Pool Party On The Moon!

In the 1970s, astronauts on the Apollo 15 and 17 missions gathered tiny glass beads that naturally formed near the volcanoes of the moon, and for nearly 40 years, those beads remained a mystery (or more accurately, a curiosity). But in 2008, researchers examining those tiny beads discovered that there was water trapped inside each one, throwing almost everything we know about the natural history of the moon into question.

Ever since that discovery, the evidence of a wet moon has only piled higher and higher. In 2009, NASA crashed a rocket and a satellite into the moon's south pole, and the resulting impact gave off signals consistent with water ice and hydroxyl, a highly reactive molecule associated with H2O. Then, in 2010, a closer inspection into other moon rocks found more signatures of water, though now long departed. This new study aims much broader, however — or more accurately, deeper.

Using the Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument aboard India's Chandrayaan-1 probe, researchers sought to predict about how much of the moon's interior contains water, and to determine where it showed up the most. The analysis indicated that almost all of the pyroclastic formations (the ones formed by volcanic eruptions) contained water, and that suggests that the water came from deep inside the moon. That's great news for two reasons. First, any potential settlements on the moon might not need to bring their own water. And second, that will save tons of space for our lunar swimsuits.

A Moon-Monkey Wrench In The Works

This is all fantastic news for space exploration enthusiasts, since water is so heavy and weight is everything. The only catch is that it pretty much wrecks our entire theory of how the moon came to be. We used to think that the moon broke off of the Earth when a Mars-sized object slammed into our planet. The only problem is, that would make a moon that was way too hot. By the time it cooled, all of the water would have evaporated.

The only theory we've got to take its place was that the water arrived well after the moon chunked off, likely from impacts from comets and asteroids. How the water came to be there isn't just an idle question, since it could guide our efforts to mine for it once the moon base is up and running. Here's hoping we find an answer soon!

NASA: Water on the Moon

Water on the Moon?

Written by Reuben Westmaas August 18, 2017

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