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NASA researchers say that the water is distributed throughout the surface of our satellite day and night. Its presence can be fundamental for the future establishment of a human colony on the lunar surface.
Scientists have made a groundbreaking discovery after finding evidence that Earth’s Moon may be covered in water. New data analysis of two lunar missions has found evidence that the water on the Moon is widely distributed on the surface and not confined to a particular region or type of terrain, as was previously believed.
Also, water seems to be present day and night, although that does not mean that it is necessarily easily accessible.
The findings could help researchers understand the origin of water in our natural satellite, which is still a mystery and answer another important question: whether or not, future human settlers could use it as an accessible resource.
If the Moon has enough water, and if it is fairly convenient to access it, future human explorers could use it as drinking water or even turn it into hydrogen and oxygen to fuel their rockets.
“We find that it doesn’t matter what time of day or which latitude we look at, the signal indicating water always seems to be present. The presence of water doesn’t appear to depend on the composition of the surface, and the water sticks around,” said Joshua Bandfield, a senior research scientist with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
The new results contradict previous studies, which suggested that there is more water in the polar latitudes of the Moon and that the strength of the water signal increases and decreases according to the lunar day (which lasts 29.5 Earth days).
Taking this into consideration, researchers have proposed that water molecules can “jump” across the lunar surface until they enter cold traps in the dark reaches of the craters near the north and south poles.
In planetary science, a cold trap is a cold region, that water vapor and other volatiles that come into contact with the surface remain stable for a prolonged period of time, even up to several billion years.
However, debates continue due to the subtleties of how detection has been achieved so far.
The main evidence comes from remote sensing instruments that measured the strength of sunlight reflected off the lunar surface.
When water is present, instruments such as these collect a spectral fingerprint at wavelengths close to 3 micrometers, which is beyond visible light and in the field of infrared radiation.
But scientists have also found that the lunar surface can also be heated enough to “shine” or emit its own light in the infrared region of the spectrum.
The challenge is to disentangle this mixture of reflected and emitted light.
For this, researchers must have very accurate temperature information.
Bandfield and his team presented a new way of incorporating lunar temperature information and created a detailed model from the measurements made by the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment on board the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
The team applied this temperature model to data previously collected by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, a visible and infrared spectrometer that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, provided for India’s Chandrayaan-1 orbiter.
Scientists say that the water most likely is found in the Form of HO, instead of H2O. The difference is that H2O is composed of one hydrogen atom and one oxygen atom, whereas OH is considered more reactive, and attaches itself chemically to other molecules. In turn, this means that future colonists would most likely have to extract the element from minerals.
The study also hints that any H2 O present on the Moon is not loosely bound to the surface.
This discovery can also help experts understand water sources and their long-term storage in other cosmic bodies throughout the solar system.
At this point, experts are still debating what exactly the findings about the Moon’s water source are telling them.
So far, the results suggest that OH and/or H2O are created by the solar wind that impacts the lunar surface, although the team does not rule out that OH and/or H2O could come from the Moon itself, slowly released from minerals inside the moon where it has been stored since the Moon was formed.
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