The moon is a lot wetter than we thought. Thatâ€™s the conclusion of scientists who used data gathered by Indiaâ€™s first lunar mission to determine there may be widespread moisture locked in lunar soils.The upper few millimeters of the moonâ€™s surface contains molecules of water, or H2O, and hydroxyl (OH) — an indication that water formation may be an ongoing process at the moonâ€™s surface, the researchers said today in the journal Science.â€œWhen we say â€˜water on the moon,â€™ we are not talking about lakes, oceans or even puddles,â€ the studyâ€™s lead author, Carle Pieters, a planetary geologist at Rhode Islandâ€™s Brown University, said. â€œWater on the moon means molecules of water and hydroxyl that interact with molecules of rock and dust specifically in the top millimeters of the moonâ€™s surface.â€
The findings open the way for astronauts on lunar missions to harvest water from the moonâ€™s surface, according to the paper. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration on June 18 launched two probes to search for frozen water on the moon.Discovering the substance would be like finding a goldmine, the agency said at the time, putting the cost of transporting a bottle of water to the moon at $50,000.Craters at the lunar poles havenâ€™t been exposed to sunlight in billions of years and probably have temperatures of minus 328 degrees Fahrenheit (-200 degrees Celsius), according to NASA. That has led planetary scientists to theorize water ice may be present in those dark areas.
As many as 770 water molecules could be present in every thousand molecules in the thin top layer of the moonâ€™s soil, according to todayâ€™s paper. Brown University said in a statement the proportion could be as high as 1,000 per million. The data was gathered by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument aboard Indiaâ€™s Chandrayaan-1 craft.â€œThe data obtained from these instruments show there is evidence of water,â€ S. Satish, a spokesman for the Indian Space Research Organization, said in a phone interview from Bangalore.The Indian â€œmoon craftâ€ was designed to orbit the moon for two years at an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles). Scientists in the southern Indian city of Bangalore lost contact with it on Aug. 29 after 315 days in orbit.The discovery may add impetus to a U.S. plan to return to the moon by 2020, a goal set by former U.S. President George W. Bush. NASA said this month it needs an additional $3 billion a year to accomplish that and other agency goals.The mapper instrument, called M3, analyzed the way sunlight reflects off the lunar surface to determine the materials that constitute the soil, according to a statement from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, which participated in the study.
NASAâ€™s Lunar Prospector craft in 1998 detected hydrogen near the pole, prompting speculation that water was present. A year later, the agency deliberately crashed the craft into the moonâ€™s surface, hoping to detect water vapor in the resulting dust plume, without success.Last year, researchers at Brown analyzed volcanic glasses recovered by the Apollo 15 mission, finding evidence of water, which they said must have had its origins deep inside the moon.ISRO will release a statement later today along with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Indian space agency is scheduled to hold a press conference at 10 a.m. tomorrow,