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NASA’s lunar orbiter spots moving water molecules on Moon

Date: 13 March 2019 Tags: Space

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft has spotted surface water molecules moving around dayside of Moon. Earlier it was believed that Moon was arid and water existed on it mainly as pockets in permanently shaded areas near poles. This finding will help scientists learn about accessibility of water that can be used by humans in future lunar missions.

Key Findings

  • The presence of surface water was detected from measurements obtained from the Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP), an instrument aboard the LRO.
  • It was found that sparse layer of molecules temporarily stuck to surface of moon and helped to characterise lunar hydration changes over the course of a day.
  • Water molecules bound to the lunar soil, or regolith remain tightly bound to the regolith until surface temperatures peak near lunar noon.
  • The amount and locations of water vary based on time of day. It is more common at higher latitudes and tends to move around quickly as surface heats up.
  • Due to thermal desorption, water molecules can bounce to nearby cold location and stick to exosphere of Moon until temperatures drop and molecules return to the surface.

Significance

Lunar hydration is tricky to measure from orbit due to complex way light reflects off the surface of the Moon. However, this discovery help scientists understand how water is bound to surface materials. It also revealed the amount of energy needed to remove water molecules from lunar materials. This water can potentially be used by astronauts in future to make fuel or for radiation shielding or thermal management.