Water Could Be Widespread in Moon’s Interior


A new look at Moon rocks from the Apollo missions, along with a lunar meteorite show a much higher water content in the Moon’s interior than previously thought. Using secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) which can detect elements in the parts per million range, scientists at the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory found the minimum water content ranged from 64 parts per billion to 5 parts per million—at least two orders of magnitude greater than previous results. The science team says their research suggests that the water was preserved from the hot magma that was present when the Moon began to form some 4.5 billion years ago. “The concentrations are very low and, accordingly, they have been until recently nearly impossible to detect,” said team member Bradley Jolliff of Washington University in St. Louis. “We can now finally begin to consider the implications—and the origin—of water in the interior of the Moon.”

The prevailing belief is that the Moon came from a giant-impact event, when a Mars-sized object hit the Earth and the ejected material coalesced into the Moon. In this new study of lunar samples, scientists determined that water was likely present very early in the formation history as the hot magma started to cool and crystallize. This result means that water is native to the Moon.

The SIMS technique measures hydroxyl by bombarding the grains of a type of phosphorous, water-bearing mineral called apatite with high-energy particles and counting the ions that are ejected. Based on the SIMS measurements, the scientists authors place the lower limit for the total lunar water at 100 times greater than previous estimates, and speculate that water may be “ubiquitous” in the moon’s interior.

The study could alter current theories about lunar magmatism (how igneous rock formed from magma), and how the moon formed and evolved.

Water is showing up in all sorts of unexpected places on the Moon. In September of 2009, a trio of spacecraft detected a ubiquitous layer of a combination of water (H2O) and hydroxyl (OH) that resides in upper millimeter of the lunar surface. It doesn’t actually amount to much; only about two tablespoons of water is believed to be present in every 1,000 pounds (450 kg). Then in October of 2009, the LCROSS impactor and spacecraft detected “buckets” of water in the permanently shadowed region of Cabeus crater near the moon’s south pole.

In 2008 water was found inside volcanic glass beads in Apollo Moon rocks, which represent solidified magma from the early moon’s interior. That finding led to this new study, using the SIMS. The scientists combined the measurements taken with the spectrometer with models that characterize how the lunar magma crystallized as the Moon cooled. They then inferred the amount of water in the apatite’s source magma, which allowed them to extrapolate the result to estimate the total amount of water that is present on the moon.

“For over 40 years we thought the Moon was dry,” said lead author of the new study, Francis McCubbin.

The research is published in the on-line early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of June 14.

19 Replies to “Water Could Be Widespread in Moon’s Interior”

  1. Spoodle58:

    [S]peaking of ET, would it be possible to tell if a lifeform found on Earth was ET in origin?

    Yes, if you are ever unfortunate to find yourself confronted by this individual! 😉

  2. It started with water on Mars, later the Moon now everywhere.
    First we thought no other planets existed, then one, two now we see them everywhere.
    I think the discovery for extra terrestrial life is very close now. We probably have been sitting on it for many years now and have not realized it to be life.

  3. My thoughts exactly Olaf (I would actually consider the ALH Mars meteorite in the same league as the early 90’s exoplanets found around a pulsar, not considered until after), and speaking of ET, would it be possible to tell if a lifeform found on Earth was ET in origin?

  4. I think that its a foregone conclusion that life could be out there when even the Pope is telling his followers about it.
    The next real question (aside from if there is intelligent life) is if we have other life forms in our own solar system.

    With the number of rocks that have been moved from planet to planet over the eons, we might have to stop looking at the evolution of life on earth as being exclusively defined by what transpired here. We may live in a solar-ecosystem with multiple worlds developing and exchanging forms of life.

    The only way to find that out is to go to planets and start scooping things up. Unfortunately, as the situation stands now, the half of the question might remain unanswered for a few hundred years yet.

    Until we can get hundreds of samples on slides the rest is just speculation.

  5. HTML code on UT is less well tested, OTOH. Where is our edit facility? 😀

  6. “We may live in a solar-ecosystem with multiple worlds developing and exchanging forms of life.”

    This statement somehow reminded me of the bizarre fringe theory of Hydro-gravitational-dynamics (HGD) cosmology being promoted by Schild, Wickramasinghe and Gibson. (see recent paper “The Origin of Life from Primordial Planets”: http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1004/1004.0504.pdf ).

    They assert (I am not making this up) “The first life likely occurred promptly following the plasma to gas transition 300,000 years after the big bang while the planets were still warm, and interchanges of material between planets constituted essentially a cosmological primordial soup. Images from optical, radio, and infrared space telescopes suggest life on Earth was neither first nor inevitable.”

    This paper goes on to assert that organic planets and life in space has been directly observed in nebula and in the interiors of planetary nebula (see example images in the paper!). A series of papers from the 1990s have been produced in support of this “theory”, and it looks to be as credible as anything from the PU-EU people (i.e. incredible). I happened to come across this paper after reading this lunar water story and comments above. Rudy Schild and N. C. Wickramasinghe should know better.

  7. I would like to posit that the sun, in its evolution, has had a history where at times it produced and expelled vast quantities of oxygen and hydrogen, a result/byproduct of the on-going gravitational condensation and fusion in its core. Those expelled elements then combined to form H20 vapor as they cooled and were captured by planetary gravity wells… Ice ages on the Earth and Mars may have been a result of those processes?

  8. OMFSM. Jon, that is hilarious! Apparently Wickramasinghe et al still cling to what is today known as “Hoyle’s fallacy”, the creationist “storm in a junkyard creation”.

    That they first denounce it and then promotes it in another form is attesting to the quality of the paper.

  9. So you are saying there’s ‘no way’ Sol’s output could change in time? and that we have a unlimited understanding of its history? Or that all currently held theories on solar evolution and neucleogenisys are indisputable? I reserve the right to disagree..

    I must note the effect of the buildup of atomic oxygen on spacecraft.. causing discolorations in some materials through ionic bonding processes..


  10. I’ve read through some of the paper and looked at the photographs. I was astonished to see that they make claims for the existance of,’ … diatoms, spores of archaia and nonobacteria’. Being only an amateur astronomer I’m very reluctant to say these eminent men and their claims are crazy but I find it very hard to swallow.

  11. @ Aqua:

    None of that makes any sense.

    – Hydrogen is consumed by fusion, and can’t be created by gravity.
    – Our sun hasn’t acquired carbon fusion yet I believe, so no oxygen.

    Such elements come from big bang respectively earlier stars. Look up “nucleosynthesis”.

    – Volatiles (includes H2O) are mainly captured after planet accretion from asteroids, if some isotope analysis are correct.
    – Gas accretion can only, as asteroids, _heat_ a planet from mass falling down the well and convert gravitational potential to kinetic energy and/or eventually heat.

    – Ice ages are AFAIU known to be mainly caused by plate tectonics (continents vs ocean) and orbital shifts.

  12. Oops; gravity and particles, I jump lightly over pair production and black holes, as it is inconsequential here.

  13. @Paul Eaton-Jones:

    As you can see from a casual glance at the HGD paper, this ‘theory’ has serious problems at many levels. You don’t need a college degree to see this, either. I think this bizarre notion serves as another precautionary tale of scientists well schooled in one facet of science then trying to leverage that knowledge in a entirely different field (with comical results). Alfven and Peratt come to mind 🙂

    IIRC Gibson, who seems to have pioneered the idea, is a fluid dynamicist by training (hence the frequent allusions to hydrodynamics). Early on (mid-1990s), Rudolph Schild provided a more robust astronomical POV to this work (the same Rudy Schild that coauthored a number of controversial papers with Halton Arp). The extraterrestrial life connection appeared after Wickramasinghe was brought on board somewhat later (and, as noted by Torbjorn, he had a long collaboration with Fred Hoyle developing their peculiar panspermia ideas).

    Most of their papers have the same ‘crackpot’ alerts: Very little mathematics, science by pictures (it looks like….), and many references to their earlier papers that are mostly rehashes of what you see here. An interesting example of a very misguided idea. I wonder if Todd Bridgeman has looked into HGD?

  14. @Aqua,

    It seems that you’ve misunderstood the article that you’ve linked to, above.

    Actually, the article is about “atomic oxygen” (AO) that results from ionizing radiation due to increasing/decreasing “solar activity” (i.e., the eleven year sunspot cycle) acting on the Earth’s atmosphere: ozone in the Earth’s stratosphere is created by ultraviolet light striking oxygen molecules containing two oxygen atoms (O2) and splitting them into individual oxygen atoms (atomic oxygen); the atomic oxygen then combines with unbroken O2 to create ozone, O3.

    The Earth’s thermosphere varies in height with solar activity and ranges from about 350–800 km — the International Space Station orbits in this layer, between 320 and 380 km — and it is in this layer that spacecraft encounters the rarefied atomic oxygen, which is highly reactive and is responsible for the erosion of carbon composites, etc., as mentioned in the article.

    It has nothing to do with atomic oxygen emanating from the Sun, which is what you seem to be implying.

  15. Torbjörn Larsson OM:

    Ice ages are AFAIU known to be mainly caused by plate tectonics (continents vs ocean) and orbital shifts.

    According to Wikipedia, these are the main (hypothetical) Causes of Ice Ages: Changes in Earth’s atmosphere; Position of the continents; Fluctuations in ocean currents; Uplift of the Tibetan plateau and surrounding mountain areas above the snowline; Variations in Earth’s orbit (Milankovitch cycles); Variations in the Sun’s energy output; Volcanism.

  16. @ Aqua:

    So you are saying there’s ‘no way’ Sol’s output could change in time?

    I don’t see the connection between this, nucleosynthesis and ice ages. Nucleosynthesis is fairly well established, it is one of the tests for standard cosmology.

    (But FWIW, it is well known that the early Sun was likely tempestous as most are, and that it’s output has increased ~ 30 % to now.)


    Ah, thanks! “There are more facts in heaven and earth, Than are dreamt of.”

  17. From a number of recent articles I’ve seen including some here Hoyle’s [ et al] theory of panspermia still seems to be popular or at least a modern variation thereof. All it appears to do is push the origin of life a further step back. For some it seems it is too hard to imagine life evolving here.
    Fred Hoyle’s contribution to astronomy, in particular nucleosynthesis, shouldn’t be underestimated nor should it be diminished by his panspermia hypothesis. But his ‘leap of faith’ in putting forward the idea that there was life out there travelling around the cosmos and eventually seeding earth all based on detecting amino acids etc in interstellar space [I’m paraphrasing here of course] is/was in danger of placing him in the same league as Alfven and, god help us, Velikovsky. [who I think was a reputable clinical psychologist at one time!]. There is a very fine dividing line between a maverick thinker and a deluded twit.

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