There may be enough water on the moon for astronauts to use
Water on the moon may be more abundant and accessible than previously thought, which could be good news for future astronauts.
Paul Hayne of the University of Colorado at Boulder and his team used camera images and temperature measurements taken with NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to image cold, permanently shadowed regions on the moon that are believed to be due to ice most likely ice included their lack of sunlight.
Although there is much evidence of the presence of water on the moon, it was previously believed that these "cold traps" were limited to deep, kilometers-wide craters. However, the team found that there are also micro-cold traps – areas in the meter and millimeter range that are permanently shaded and therefore could contain more accessible ice. Overall, the researchers estimate that cold traps take up about 40,000 square kilometers or about 0.1 percent of the moon's surface.
"We are seeing billions and billions of these cold traps on previously unknown scales," says Hayne. “This offers the possibility of extracting ice much more easily. We think this is revolutionary in terms of what will be possible for astronauts on the moon. "
A separate study also confirmed the presence of water ice (H2O) instead of hydroxyl (OH), which earlier observations could not distinguish between. Casey Honniball of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and her colleagues used the agency's SOFIA telescope, mounted on an airplane, to get a clearer view through the Earth's atmosphere and detect a spectral signature unique to water. "I screamed with excitement," says Honniball.
According to Honniball, the readings are consistent with the presence of individual water molecules contained in grains on the lunar surface. "This form of water is expected to be widespread on the surface," she says.
"Water is central to human life, but it is expensive to put into space," says Honniball. "If we find water on the moon, we can use the water that is available instead of bringing the water with us."
However, it's still not clear how stable water is in this form over long periods of time, says William Bottke of the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado. "Astronauts could also have great difficulty extracting this water," he says. "For example, to fill a bottle, the astronauts may have to process thousands of kilograms of stones."
Journal references: Nature Astronomy, DOI: 10.1038 / s41550-020-1198-9; 10.1038 / s41550-020-01222-x
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