It was believed that there are carbon dioxide cold traps present on the moon but there was never any proof of them – until now. These cold traps may possibly have solid carbon dioxide which would have a major affect on future missions to the moon.
These carbon dioxide cold traps are located at the lunar south pole where there are continuous shadows and extremely cold temperatures. Specifically, there were a total of 204 square kilometers (79 square miles) worth of these cold traps with the biggest area of them being located in the Amundsen Crater – 82 square kilometers (32 square miles) of cold traps were found there. Incredibly, the temperature in this area dips down to a freezing 60 degrees Kelvin (-352 degrees Fahrenheit or -213 degrees Celsius).
Since it is so cold, the carbon dioxide molecules could become frozen and stay in solid form continuously, even when the temperatures rise. However, while there are carbon dioxide cold traps on the moon, it’s not certain whether there is solid carbon dioxide.
In order to confirm the presence of carbon dioxide cold traps, experts studied 11 years worth of temperature data collected by the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment that was on board NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Norbert Schörghofer, who is a planetary scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, explained their work in further detail, “I think when I started this, the question was, ‘Can we confidently say there are carbon dioxide cold traps on the moon or not?’” “My surprise was that they're actually, definitely there. It could have been that we can't establish their existence, [they might have been] one pixel on a map... so I think the surprise was that we really found contiguous regions which are cold enough, beyond doubt.”
Since there are carbon dioxide cold traps on the moon, they will affect future missions, such as robots or humans possibly being able to use the cold traps to create numerous materials that would help them to stay there for a longer period of time. For example, the cold traps could be beneficial in creating steel, biomaterials, and rocket fuel.
Additionally, the cold traps may aid experts in learning more about our lunar neighbor’s history like water and other volatiles as noted by Paul Hayne who is a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, but wasn’t part of the study, “These should be high-priority sites to target for future landed missions.” “This sort of pinpoints where you might go on the lunar surface to answer some of these big questions about volatiles on the moon and their delivery from elsewhere in the solar system.” (A map of the carbon dioxide cold traps on the moon can be viewed here.)
The study was published in the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters where it can be read in full.