New evidence suggests there’s lots of water trapped beneath the surface of the moon, a hidden supply that could be good news for future exploration efforts.
If there’s water, could a moon colony be possible?
A study of satellite data found ancient volcanic deposits strewn across the moon’s surface contain higher amounts of trapped water compared with surrounding areas.
The study “bolsters the idea that the lunar mantle is surprisingly water-rich,” scientists from Brown University say in a press release.
Their research, published Monday in Nature Geoscience, examined data from India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter.
The Apollo 15 and 17 missions to the moon in the early 1970s collected volcanic glass beads and brought them back to Earth, according to Newsweek. A study in 2011 suggested they contained water.
The new study tried to determine if they were anomalies or representative of how much water might exist on the moon, Newsweek reports.
“By looking at the orbital data, we can examine the large pyroclastic (volcanic rock fragment) deposits on the moon that were never sampled by the Apollo or Luna missions,” Ralph Milliken, Brown University associate professor and lead author of the new study, said in a news release.
“The fact that nearly all of them exhibit signatures of water suggests that the Apollo samples are not anomalous, so it may be that the bulk interior of the moon is wet.”
Though the volcanic glass beads didn’t contain much water – a few hundred parts per million, if that – there’s a lot of volcanic material to work with, Milliken told CNN.
Some fields of the volcanic remains cover thousands of square kilometers and could be several kilometers deep, Milliken said. “It’s more water than previously recognized,” he told CNN.
What does all this mean? The last time man walked on the moon was during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, according to NASA.
A newfound source of water on the moon could “bode well for our long-held visions of a lunar base,” notes Eric Mack for CNET.
“A source of water on the moon could add to a growing undercurrent of renewed excitement about returning to the moon. Besides Moon Express, Japan, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and even (Elon) Musk are among the other big names tossing out new lunar visions.”
The private company, Moon Express, has announced plans to send a lunar lander to the moon this year and possibly begin preliminary mining efforts to bring back samples in three years, reports Phys.org science website.
The company’s “first prospecting efforts will be studying pyroclastic deposits on the moon, which hold unique clues to potential deposits of lunar water and other resources,” the company’s founder and CEO, Bob Richards, told Phys.org.
“Our baseline landing site for our maiden lunar expedition is an equatorial region of the moon high in pyroclastic deposits.”
The pyroclastic deposits cited by the new study might be in locations on the moon that are easier to access than previously thought, the study’s co-author, Shuai Li, told CNET.
“Anything that helps save future lunar explorers from having to bring lots of water from home is a big step forward, and our results suggest a new alternative,” he said.
Man last set foot on the moon in December 1972 during the Apollo 17 mission, according to NASA.