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Tags Current Affairs

Discovery of water on Moon’s sunlit surface

Date: 28 October 2020 Tags: Space

Issue

In two separate studies, scientists have reported findings of water with potentially huge implications for sustaining humans on the Moon in the future. 

 

Background

The Moon has water at places where none had been detected before, and has potentially more water than previously believed in regions where it was already understood to exist.

 

Details

  • One study reports the detection of water on the Moon’s sunlit surface for the first time. The other estimates that the Moon’s dark, shadowy regions, which potentially contain ice, are more widespread than thought.

  • Apart from being a marker of potential life, water is a precious resource in deep space. For astronauts landing on the Moon, water is necessary not only to sustain life but also for purposes such as generating rocket fuel.

  • NASA’s Artemis programme plans to send the first woman and the next man to the Moon in 2024, and hopes to establish a “sustainable human presence” there by the end of the decade.

  • If space explorers can use the Moon’s resources, it means they need to carry less water from Earth.

  • Previous Moon studies, including by the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) Chandrayaan-1 mission, have provided evidence for the existence of water.

  • In 2009, the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument aboard Chandrayaan-1 found water molecules in the polar regions. 

  • However, what was not established in observations was whether the detected molecules were water as we know it (H20) or in the form of hydroxyl (OH).

  • This time, it is confirmed H20 molecules, discovered in Clavius Crater in the Moon’s southern hemisphere. And it is the first time water has been detected on the sunlit side, showing it is not restricted to the shadowy regions.

  • Space rocks carrying small amounts of water could have bombarded the Moon. Alternatively, the Sun’s solar wind could have carried hydrogen, which then reacted with minerals in the lunar soil to create hydroxyl, which later transformed into water.

  • The sunlit surface retaining the water presents a puzzle, since the Moon does not have a thick atmosphere. One possibility is that the water gets trapped into tiny bead-like structures that were created in the soil by impacts from space rocks. Alternatively, the water could be hidden between grains of lunar soil and sheltered from the sunlight.

  • The estimate used mathematical tools to analyse data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The cold traps have gone without sunlight for potentially billions of years.

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