First Global Map Of Water On Moon’s Surface Created

Posted: Sep 15 2017, 2:03am CDT | by , Updated: Sep 15 2017, 2:09am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
First Global Map of Water on Moon’s Surface Created
Credit: Milliken lab / Brown University

The map may prove useful to lunar exploration

For the first time, researchers have created a quantitative map of water found on Moon’s surface.

The first-ever global map is based on data from NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper, an instrument aboard India's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. In 2009, the instrument made a huge discovery when it detected water molecules in the polar regions of the moon. However, further evidences suggested that water exists on other parts of moon too.

"The signature of water is present nearly everywhere on the lunar surface, not limited to the polar regions as previously reported," said study lead author, Shuai Li from Brown University. "The amount of water increases toward the poles and does not show significant difference among distinct compositional terrains."

Scientists had assumed for years that the Moon has been devoid of water. That began to change in recent years when several probes found signatures of water on moon. The water concentration on moon can reach up to 750 parts per million in the higher latitudes. That's not a lot – less than found in the sands of Earth's driest deserts - but it cannot be entirely discounted.

Based on quantifiable data, the map may prove useful to future lunar exploration. It presents a clearer picture of water-rich areas on moon and could make colonizing our nearest neighbor in space a bit easier.

“This is a roadmap to where water exists on the surface of the Moon," said co-researcher Ralph Milliken from Brown. "Now that we have these quantitative maps showing where the water is and in what amounts, we can start thinking about whether or not it could be worthwhile to extract, either as drinking water for astronauts or to produce fuel."

Map reveals that the distribution of water on moon is largely uniform rather than uneven as it gradually decreases toward the equator. The concentration of water also changes over the course of the lunar day from wetter in the early morning to nearly bone dry around lunar noon. The fluctuation can be as much as 200 parts per million.

"We don't know exactly what the mechanism is for this fluctuation, but it tells us that the process of water formation in the lunar soil is active and happening today," said Milliken. "This raises the possibility that water may re-accumulate after extraction, but we need to better understand the physics of why and how this happens to understand the timescale over which water may be renewed."

Detecting the water content on lunar surface using orbital instruments is no easy task. For instance, The Moon Mineralogy Mapper, which supplied the data for the research, relies on light reflected off of the surface. So, it can overlook water in areas that are permanently shadowed such as the floors on impact craters in the Moon's polar regions could harbor large deposits or water ice. Still, the map represents a realistic starting point for utilizing lunar water resources.

"It remains to be seen whether extraction could be feasible," said Milliken. "But these results show us what the range of water availability across the surface is so we can start thinking about where we might want to go to get it and whether it makes economic sense to do so."

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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