You might not realize it, but water is a lot more common on the moon than you probably think–albeit not in its liquid form. Water is instead found as ice on the lunar surface. Although it isn’t as common as on our planet, moon water could be an extremely valuable resource for future lunar colonies. However, we need to know how to find it.
Researchers in China have discovered evidence of a surprising location for moon water: glass beads. In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, scientists analyzed lunar samples collected by China’s Chang’e-5 mission and brought back to Earth. They found that glass beads formed by impacts from space rocks can store water, suggesting that the moon and other “airless bodies” like asteroids might actually have more water on their surfaces than expected.
Surprisingly, the water might be coming from a very unexpected source: the sun. These molecules react with minerals and the oxygen in the moon’s surface as the solar wind pummels it with protons. This can eventually create hydrogen, and the necessary ingredients to make water.
“Our direct measurements of this surface reservoir of lunar water show that impact glass beads can store substantial quantities of solar wind-derived water on the moon and suggest that impact glass may be water reservoirs on other airless bodies,” the authors wrote.
To reach their findings, the researchers analyzed the water content of glass beads extracted from Chang’e-5’s lunar soil samples. They discovered that the glass beads could gather water over the course of just a few years and then be released back into the moon’s thin atmosphere. The moon has an active water cycle, but it’s quite different from the Earth’s.
The findings also indicate that impact glass could hold water for other airless bodies in space. The authors stated that comet and asteroid impacts were the main exogenous processes responsible for changing the surface morphologies on airless bodies. This is evident by the large number of impact craters found on Mercury and other asteroids.
The authors note that glass beads can be a valuable resource for astronauts who are stationed on the moon’s surface. Not only could they potentially drink the water, but water could also be used to make sustainable rocket fuel. It could drastically reduce the cost of future moon colonization.
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