Is there water on the moon – and lots of water in the core of the moon? Brown University researchers who analyzed satellite images say they found evidence that the water is trapped behind volcanic rocks. Professor Ralph Milliken, lead author of the study, writes: “In fact, almost all the rocks have traces of water, so most of the moon’s core is wet.”
The discovery could encourage future missions to seek water reserves. “It’s much more water than we thought before,” Milliken told the journal Nature Geoscience, in which the study was published.
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Scientists had assumed for years that the interior of the Moon had been largely depleted of water and other volatile compounds.
In 2008, researchers identified residual water in some volcanic glass samples (glass produced by the rapid cooling of magma) that were brought to Earth on Apollo 15 and 17 missions.
In 2011, another study showed that similar amounts of water also exist in the tiny crystals within the volcanic glass, which suggests that the core contains amounts of water similar to those in the inner shell of the Earth. It is estimated that the amount of water equivalent to the amount of water in all the oceans together.
To date, it has not been clear whether these samples from Apollo missions represent a representative sample of the Moon, or whether the two sampling sites were by chance more water-rich regions. Now, a close examination of information collected from the Mineralogy Mapper, a spectrometer on the Indian Chandrayaan-1 satellite orbit the moon, has raised large existing water at many volcanic eruptions. Spectrometry is a method of research that measures the wavelength of reflected light from materials to identify their constituents. Because different materials return light waves of different lengths, the method allows scientists on Earth to study the composition of celestial bodies.
The researchers found evidence of water in almost all of the volcanic deposits mapped so far on the moon, including the deposits near the Apollo 15 and 17 landing sites, from which the volcanic glass samples were brought.
The Israeli Space Agency website tells us that the idea that the moon’s face is rich in water raises interesting questions about its formation process. Scientists estimate today that the moon was formed from material that was released after a Mars-sized body hit the young Earth. But it is doubtful whether atoms of hydrogen needed to create water (a water molecule composed of two hydrogen atoms and one atom of oxygen) would have survived the intense heat created by the collision of the two bodies.
The new study has implications for manned missions to the moon. Previous studies have shown that there are ice deposits in the moon’s shaded poles, but so far there have been no known significant quantities of water outside the lattices – water that can help with long-range space missions. In recent years, NASA has been exploring ways to cut water from the moon for good reason: water, or, more precisely, the decomposition of water into hydrogen and oxygen, could be a cheap source of fuel for space missions to and from the moon to Mars.