Scientists have confirmed the existence of ice on the surface of the moon. The findings have important significance for humankind’s future space explorations.
The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) on Aug. 20.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Shuai Li, a planetary scientist at the University of Hawaii, said that while it had long been assumed that hydrogen identified at the moon’s pole was frozen water, that had never been confirmed, ABC reported.
Because the lunar poles are never exposed to sunlight, they are dark and remain well below freezing temperature—in excess of -260 degrees.
While prior evidence had come to light that ice may exist on the surface of the moon’s south pole, it was possible that this was due to other phenomena.
Hydrogen, an element of water, had been detected at the moon’s poles by both NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Indian spacecraft Chandrayaan-1.
This was taken to mean that water existed at the poles. However the presence of hydrogen could mean different things, Li said, reported ABC.
“It could be hydrogen, it could be hydroxl, it could be water, or could be anything else with hydrogen. The data can not distinguish which is which,” he said.
Existence of Ice Confirmed
Data taken from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3), which was launched aboard the Chandrayaan-1 in 2008, proves there is definitely ice at the poles.
As an imaging spectrometer, M3 can measure the wavelengths of light. This allows the composition of materials to be identified.
In 2009, M3 was used to find water molecules in the moon’s polar regions.
Using M3 to study the reflective properties and the light-absorbing characteristics of the molecules yielded proof that ice exists at the lunar poles.
Ice is very rare on the moon’s surface, Li said.
“As it goes to longer wavelengths the reflections are lower. This is opposite to the lunar surface material,” he added.
A higher distribution of ice was observed at the moon’s southern pole, due to it having more shadowed regions.
Overall, the moon’s abundance and distribution of ice is distinct from “other airless bodies in the inner solar system such as Mercury and Ceres,” the PNAS paper states.
This is thought possibly to be due to the moon’s distinct formation and evolution process.
A Bonus for Future Space Exploration
Importantly, the moon’s newly confirmed ice deposits could be used as an “in situ resource,” the paper also suggests.
“We actually have water there, so we don’t have to bring it with us, which cuts down launch costs immensely,” Australia’s Macquarie University, planetary scientist, Dr. Craig O’Neill said, ABC reported.
“It makes the moon a lot more feasible in terms of human colonization or just using it as a mission base for the rest of the solar system as well,” he added.
From The Epoch Times