The Moon Could Have Gathered Some of its Water from the Earth’s Atmosphere

Our Moon is a fascinating world that has captivated us since time immemorial. Long before the first telescope was invented, ancient humans used the Moon as a calendar in the sky, with evidence that lunar timekeeping was around as early as 25,000, 30,000, and even 35,000 years before the present. Long before humanity had written language, lived in organized cities, and worshipped structured religions, the Moon was one of humanity’s first timepieces. It wasn’t until the telescope was invented that our Moon became an object of scientific curiosity, with the sketches by Galileo Galilei giving us a new perspective on our nearest celestial neighbor. As science advanced, so did our understanding of the Moon. While the Apollo missions were successful in teaching us about the geology of the Moon, it wasn’t until 2009 when the LCROSS impact probe onboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter deliberately crashed into a dark crater on the Moon’s south pole and detected 155 kilograms of water as it flew through the ejecta plume before ultimately crashing into the lunar surface.

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China’s Lunar Lander Finds Water Under its Feet

The area marked by the red line are the scoop sampling points, the blue box identifies the imaging area of the panoramic camera and the base image is from landing camera. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Earlier this year, scientists from China’s Chang’E-5 lunar lander revealed they had found evidence of water in the form of hydroxyl from in-situ measurements taken while lander was on the Moon. Now, they have confirmed the finding with laboratory analysis of the lunar samples from Chang’E-5 that were returned to Earth.  The amount of water detected varied across the randomly chosen samples taken from around the base of the lander, from 0 to 180 parts per million (ppm), mean value of 28.5?ppm, which is on the weak end of lunar hydration.

“For the first time in the world, the results of laboratory analysis of lunar return samples and spectral data from in-situ lunar surface surveys were used jointly to examine the presence, form and amount of ‘water’ in lunar samples,” said co-author Li Chunlai from the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC), in a press release. “The results accurately answer the question of the distribution characteristics and source of water in the Chang’E-5 landing zone and provide a ground truth for the interpretation and estimation of water signals in remote sensing survey data.”

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The Moon’s Ancient Volcanoes Could Have Created Ice Sheets Dozens of Meters Thick

Everyone loves looking at the Moon, especially through a telescope. To see those dark and light patches scattered across its surface brings about a sense of awe and wonder to anyone who looks up at the night sky. While our Moon might be geologically dead today, it was much more active billions of years ago when it first formed as hot lava blanketed hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of the Moon’s surface in hot lava. These lava flows are responsible for the dark patches we see when we look at the Moon, which are called mare, translated as “seas”, and are remnants of a far more active past.

In a recent study published in The Planetary Science Journal, research from University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) suggests that volcanoes active billions of years ago may have left another lasting impact on the lunar surface: sheets of ice that dot the Moon’s poles and, in some places, could measure dozens or even hundreds of meters (or feet) thick.

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One Crater on the Moon is Filled with Ice and Gas that Came from a Comet Impact

In the coming years, NASA and other space agencies hope to explore the southern polar region of the Moon. Recent surveys of this region have revealed an environment rich in volatiles – elements that vaporize rapidly due to changes in conditions. In particular, missions like NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) have detected abundant water ice in the permanently-shadowed craters around the South Pole-Aitken Basin.

Where this water came from has remained the subject of much debate, with theories ranging from it being deposited by volcanic activity or solar wind to being delivered by comets. After examining LCROSS data on the Cabeus crater near the Moon’s south pole, a multinational team of researchers from the U.S. and France determined that the water ice and volatiles in the crater were likely delivered by the impactor (a comet) that created it.

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China’s Lander Has Detected Water on the Moon

Illustration: Chang'e-5 probe
An artist's concept shows the Chang'e-5 lander and ascent vehicle on the Moon. (CNSA / CLEP via NASA)

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar lander has found evidence of hydroxyl (OH) on the Moon. Hydroxyl is a close chemical cousin of water, H2O. While several other orbital missions have detected OH on the Moon previously, Chang’e-5 marks the first time it has been detected by a spacecraft sitting on the lunar surface.

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The Moon is a Barren and Desolate, but Lunar Caves Could Offer Some Shelter From the Harsh Environment

A pit in a fracture on the lunar surface. (Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

The dream of building a permanent settlement on the Moon: a place where humans from all walks of life can come together and give rise to a new culture and identity. A place where vital scientific research and experiments can be conducted, lunar industries created, and people can go for a little “adventure tourism.” It’s been the stuff of science fiction and speculative literature for over a century. But in the coming years, it could very well become a reality.

This presents many challenges but also opportunities for creative solutions. For years, astronomers have speculated that the perfect place to create a lunar colony is underground, specifically within pits, caves, and stable lava tubes visible and accessible from the lunar surface. According to new research from CU Boulder, preliminary results show these pits to be remarkably stable compared to conditions on the surface.

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Some of the Moon’s Craters are so Dark, it Takes AI to see What’s Inside Them

There is no dark side of the Moon.  But there are dark spots on it – specifically at the bottom of craters that are never reached by any sunlight no matter where the Moon is facing.  These areas have intrigued scientists for decades, in no small part because lack of sunlight means a lower temperature, allowing frozen materials to stay frozen. In other words, there may be water in them thar craters.  And water will be the lifeblood of any future permanent crewed lunar mission.  

Unfortunately, lack of sunlight also means it’s challenging to see what’s at the bottom of those craters.  The closest scientists have come was when LCROSS, a NASA moon mission, fired a projectile into the crater Cabeus and analyzed the resultant dust cloud, which contained a relatively high amount of water.  But so far, no one has been able to image what water is in those craters directly.

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Chefs on the Moon Will be Cooking up Rocks to Make air and Water

Artist impression of a Moon Base concept. Credit: ESA – P. Carril

NASA has delayed their Artemis mission to the Moon, but that doesn’t mean a return to the Moon isn’t imminent. Space agencies around the world have their sights set on our rocky satellite. No matter who gets there, if they’re planning for a sustained presence on the Moon, they’ll require in-situ resources.

Oxygen and water are at the top of a list of resources that astronauts will need on the Moon. A team of engineers and scientists are figuring out how to cook Moon rocks and get vital oxygen and water from them. They presented their results at the Europlanet Science Congress 2021.

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NASA’s VIPER Rover Will Hunt for Water Near Nobile Crater at Moon’s South Pole

A data visualization shows the mountainous area west of Nobile Crater and the smaller craters that litter its rim at the lunar south pole. The region includes permanently shadowed areas where subsurface water ice could persist, as well as sunlit areas that would make it possible to power the VIPER rover. (NASA Graphic)

NASA says its VIPER rover will head for the western edge of Nobile Crater near the moon’s south pole in 2023, targeting a region where shadowed craters are cold enough for water ice to exist, but where enough of the sun’s rays reach to keep the solar-powered robot going.

Today’s announcement provides a focus for a mission that’s meant to blaze a trail for Artemis astronauts who are scheduled to land on the lunar surface by as early as 2024, and for a sustainable lunar settlement that could take shape by the end of the decade.

“Once it’s on the surface, it will search for ice and other resources on and below the lunar surface that could one day be used and harvested for long-term human exploration of the moon,” Lori Glaze, director of the planetary science division at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said during a teleconference.

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