A team of scientists led by Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii and Brown University, and including Richard Elphic from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, claim to have found water ice on the moon. The information used to reach this conclusion comes from an instrument on India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission, which explored the moon between 2008 and 2009, as reported by Space. The ice deposits rest on the north and south poles of the moon and are believed to be ancient in origin.
The conclusion was based on more than the ability to detect the reflective properties that would be expected from ice. The ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) and other scientists were able to use data harvested by M3, which was created by NASA JPL in Pasadena, California, traveling aboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft to reach their findings. The collected data was used to map how molecules absorbed infrared light.
Infrared light differentiates between solid ice, liquid water, or vapor. The vast majority of the ice exists in areas that are in the shadows of craters located on or around each pole where the temperature is not known to rise above minus 250 Fahrenheit, per the BBC.
Scientists with NASA stated that they hope to have an opportunity to study how the ice got there and how it interacts with the greater lunar environment. While being careful to not overestimate what this discovery could possibly mean for future lunar missions or the potential for colonization, there was an underlying enthusiasm for new possibilities in their study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
“We found direct and definitive evidence for surface-exposed water ice in the lunar polar regions. The abundance and distribution of ice on the Moon are distinct from those on other airless bodies in the inner solar system such as Mercury and Ceres, which may be associated with the unique formation and evolution process of our Moon. These ice deposits might be utilized as an in situ resource in future exploration of the Moon.”
The water ice deposits are more abundant on the south pole where it mostly lies in the bottoms of craters in a heavily concentrated format. The northern pole has a more dispersed arrangement of water ice formations that are thinly scattered about a variety of shadowed areas. It is believed this could be due to subtle changes in the moon’s axis of rotation which could have been caused by meteorite impacts over the course of eons. They further estimate that only about 3.5 percent of the lunar “cold traps” contain surface water ice.
Within the study lies a discussion of the potential uses of the water, which current findings indicates lies only a couple of millimeters below the lunar surface soil. While water has been previously detected below the surface of the moon, it has been considered potentially too difficult to harvest. This newly discovered surface water ice should prove almost immediately accessible. As such, they believe that this would not only provide a somewhat realistic potential for extended manned excursions to the moon but also provide information mankind has never previously been privy to studying.