Glass beads covering the moon found to contain water
Water has been discovered inside tiny beads of glass on the moon. The discovery could potentially provide a “sustainable, responsible” source of water for future exploration, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience. Over the past few decades, several missions have shown that there is water both on the surface and trapped inside minerals on the moon.
But this recent study goes a step further as the first to find water within the lunar surface’s glass beads, which may make up around 3% to 5% of lunar soil. Rough estimates say the moon could be holding a third of a trillion tonnes of water inside all these glass beads.
The discovery comes at a time when scientists are warning of the severe danger our water resources on Earth are currently facing.
A team led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences carried out the study, polishing and analysing 117 glass beads which had been collected by China’s Chang’e-5 spacecraft in December 2020. The samples had been brought to Earth for further study.
The water-holding beads are formed by tiny meteorites crashing into the moon’s surface. The moon gets pummelled more since it lacks an atmosphere like the Earth has that offers protection from space debris. The heat of the meteorite impact melts the surface material, which cools into microscopic round glass beads around the width of a strand of hair.
Mahesh Anand, a professor of planetary science and exploration at the UK’s Open University, co-authored the study and said they had observed water molecules “hopping over the lunar surface” on sunny days. They had been trying to identify the source of these molecules.
Upon further investigation, the scientists discovered that the solar wind, which carries charged particles across the Solar System, was providing the necessary hydrogen to form water.
Oxygen, the other half of the H2O formula for water, is plentiful on the moon. Scientists estimate that about half the matter trapped in the rocks and minerals on the moon is oxygen.
This suggests that a similar process could happen on Mercury or asteroids. Water could be produced by solar wind on other atmosphere-less bodies in Solar System.
Anand stated that the water inside the glass beads can be easily extracted by subjecting them to the mild heat of approximately 100 degrees Celsius. This could provide a “sustainable and responsible” source of water or even oxygen for future space explorers searching for new worlds.
There are currently several space missions planned that can continue the resources and even possibly start harvesting water. NASA has the VIPER moon mission planned to study water ice on the moon’s South Pole. And the European Space Agency might be able to gather water on its robotic drill PROSPECT mission, planned for 2025.
The water resources could come in handy as NASA is planning its Artemis mission – the first time humans will return to the moon’s surface since the last visit over 50 years ago in 1972.
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