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Water Ice Found On The Moon’s Surface: Here’s What It Means

Aug 22, 2018 08:00 PM EDT
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Scientists can now definitively confirm the existence of water on the moon's surface, with irrefutable evidence of solid ice at the northern and southern poles.

The possibility of water presence on the moon has already been much speculated in the past. Other researchers have even come across signs of surface water, but actual evidence has never been observed.

Now, scientists can be more confident in saying water exists on the moon with the new findings published on in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Finding Water Ice On The Moon's Surface

According to the University of Hawai'i, researchers from their Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology were able to find the first ever direct evidence of water ice at permanently shaded regions or PSRs on the moon's surface.

The team used data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, which measures reflected light from the moon. Since these hidden regions are never hit by sunlight, the M3 instrument measured the scattered light in these areas instead.

PSRs have consistently freezing temperatures that never go higher than -157 degrees Celsius (-250 degrees Fahrenheit). These pockets of cold reportedly trap water ice, creating deposits of it at the surface.

"We found that the distribution of ice on the lunar surface is very patchy, which is very different from other planetary bodies such as Mercury and Ceres where the ice is relatively pure and abundant," Shuai Li, the study lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at the Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, explains in a statement. "The spectral features of our detected ice suggest that they were formed by slow condensation from a vapor phase either due to impact or water migration from space."

The possibly ancient ice deposits are concentrated at the lunar craters at the southern pole and then widely yet sparsely distributed at the northern pole, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory reports.

The team found three different signatures from M3 that confirmed the water ice at the moon. Aside from measuring reflection, M3 also measured the way the molecules absorbed infrared light, which allowed them to discern ice from liquid water and vapor.

What It Means

The confirmation is a major breakthrough, possibly playing a significant part in future projects that include longer expeditions in space. Certainly, a lunar outpost could benefit from access to water directly on the surface of the moon.

Aside from practical implications of the existence of lunar water, Li explains that further studies on the water processes of the moon, which appears to be very different from the processes in other cosmic bodies, could lead to a greater understanding of the origin of water on both Earth and the solar system as a whole.

"This work provides a roadmap for future exploration of the Moon, particularly the potential of water ice as a resource," Li says.

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