Scientists from Brown University devised a map that is able to locate water supplies on the moon so astronauts can use it for drinking water or fuel.
We’re only sensing the upper millimeter or so of soil, and we can’t say for sure what the water content is like underneath that.
According to a report by online tech publication The Register, researchers use data taken from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) – an imaging spectrometer onboard the Chandrayaan‑1 probe – to locate water molecules to create their map.
In 2009, NASA revealed that the M3 discovered hydroxyl molecules containing one oxygen and one hydrogen atom and water in the soil. By plotting the abundance of hydroxyl concentrations across the Moon’s latitude, researchers can now provide a map of the water levels evident on the surface.
“The signature of water is present nearly everywhere on the lunar surface, not limited to the polar regions as previously reported. The amount of water increases toward the poles and does not show significant difference among distinct compositional terrains,” Shuai Li, lead author of the paper, said.
Despite the map showing extremely small concentrations of water, experts believe the findings are important for astronauts who might be able to extract the water from the soil or help them locate larger volumes of water deep beneath the surface.
“This is a roadmap to where water exists on the surface of the Moon. Now that we have these quantitative maps showing where the water is and in what amounts, we can start thinking about whether or not it could be worthwhile to extract, either as drinking water for astronauts or to produce fuel,” Ralph Milliken, co-author of the paper, said.
“It remains to be seen whether extraction could be feasible. But these results show us what the range of water availability across the surface is, so we can start thinking about where we might want to go to get it and whether it makes economic sense to do so,” he added.
In the same report by The Register, the map shows that the distribution of water is mostly uniform, with levels decreasing from the poles to the equator. There are also large pockets of water concentrations near the equator, which scientists believe come from within the moon’s mantle and rose to the surface as magma.
Milliken says that the amount of water changes throughout the day. In the mornings and evenings, lunar soil is much wetter, but gets drier during the afternoons.
“It tells us that the process of water formation in the lunar soil is active and happening today. This raises the possibility that water may re-accumulate after extraction, but we need to better understand the physics of why and how this happens to understand the timescale over which water may be renewed,” he said.
“We’re only sensing the upper millimeter or so of soil, and we can’t say for sure what the water content is like underneath that. The distribution of water with depth could make a big difference in terms of how much water is actually there,” he added.
Not only is this map making a bold impact on the science community, but it could lead to further discoveries that prove extraterrestrial life forms in space.