We often forget how mysterious our moon is. Maybe it’s due to seeing it every night, just hanging out in the sky, predictably waxing and waning. Of all the celestial bodies in our solar system, the moon is probably taken for granted the most. That’s too bad, because the moon is weird, and scientists are making new discoveries about our dear Luna all the time. The latest is that the moon is likely hiding huge amounts of ice under her dusty surface, which could be mined and used as crucial supplies for space exploration and colonization missions.
The discovery was made after analyzing a lunar meteor that fell in the African desert 13 years ago, according to Space.com. Scientists discovered that the meteor fell from the moon containing large amounts of moganite, a mineral close in structure to quartz but which is only formed in the presence of alkaline fluids like water. Specifically, it’s formed in the evaporation of water. Masahiro Kayama, a scientist at Tohoku University in Japan who led the team that made the discovery, believes that this moganite formed when water in the surface dust of the moon was evaporated by the harsh rays of the sun, and says that there is likely more water below the surface:
In a moganite, there is less water, because moganite forms from the evaporation of water. That’s the case on the surface of the moon. But in the subsurface, much water remains as ice, because it’s protected from the sunlight.
Kayama says that the concentration of moganite in the lunar meteor suggests that the subsurface of the moon may be made of as much as 0.6 percent water, meaning that extraction could yield 6 liters of water for every cubic meter processed. While that pales in comparison to the amount of water on Earth, it could be enough that future colonists on the moon wouldn’t need to rely on water from Earth to survive. It could also be used to supply missions to Mars and beyond, and hydrogen could be extracted for rocket fuel. Kayama says:
We wouldn’t need to bring all the water for drinking and the fuel to return to Earth or to travel to Mars, for example, with us from Earth. If water is abundant in the lunar subsurface, we can easily use it.
While this is the first sign of ice in the lunar soil, we’ve already detected water on the moon. NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite found water near the Moon’s south pole, and India’s Chandrayaan-1 found traces of water in the thin atmosphere surrounding the moon. Perhaps water is far more abundant in our solar system and galaxy-at-large than we’ve always assumed.