After a decades-long search, new research has found more clues about the celestial body closest to Earth: our Moon. New research has found conclusive evidence of water in the form of ice on the Moon’s polar regions.
While there’s water everywhere on Earth, not the same can be said for other bodies in our solar system. Finding water on our own Moon has dramatic implications for the future of space exploration.
This is the first time scientists have found definitive evidence of water on the Moon’s surface. While there has been speculation over the years, NASA lacked the tools and data to prove the presence of water without a shadow of a doubt.
NASA has found evidence of water in other more distant celestial bodies in our solar system, like Mercury and Ceres. NASA suspected ice water would also be present on the Earth’s Moon, which shares characteristics with Mercury and Ceres. These celestial bodies all have one thing in common: their axes don’t tilt significantly. This means that their polar regions stay extremely cold and are in permanent darkness. In other words, these bodies are the perfect location to find extraterrestrial ice.
A team of scientists from the University of Hawaii and Brown University partnered with the NASA Ames Research Center to study the potential presence of water on the Moon over ten years ago.
Ice water was discovered on the Moon by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument, or M3. The M3 was launched in 2008 by the Indian Space Research Organization on the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. M3 was specifically designed to analyze the Moon for any evidence of water.
The M3 analyzed the Moon’s surface to look for ice. It first scanned the Moon’s surface for reflective areas that could be ice. Next, M3 had to prove this was ice, and not reflective lunar soil. To be completely sure it was ice, M3 measured how the ice absorbed infrared light. This distinguishes between liquid water, vapor, and ice. After this analysis, M3 found three distinct signatures that definitively prove that there is water on the Moon’s surface.
The ice is concentrated in the Moon’s north and south poles inside the shadows of craters. These regions never get warmer than -250 degrees Fahrenheit. This is due to the Moon’s axis, which doesn’t tilt very far, limiting sunlight to the middle areas of the Moon.
This astounding discovery has major implications for the future of space exploration, as well as our understanding of the Moon itself.
Since ice is present on the surface of the Moon, astronauts on future expeditions could potentially use this ice as an accessible source of water. It even opens up the possibility of colonizing the Moon! There’s likely more water underneath the Moon’s surface, too, which suggests more study is needed to measure the true amount of water on the Moon.
Future research will need to learn more about the ice itself. So many questions are still unanswered. Where did the ice come from? How does it interact with the Moon as a whole? Is the ice accessible for human use in the future? NASA, along with its commercial partners, plans to lead missions that will answer these critical questions.