Now that there is talk of returning to the moon at some point, perhaps even to establish a longer-term colony, this raises the question of how to make a lunar colony sustainable.
According to NASA and a new study published in Nature Geoscience, this may be easier than we think, since water seems to be much more evenly distributed around the Moon than anyone had previously imagined. By analyzing the data from two different lunar missions, the researchers were able to find traces of H 2 O or OH (called "hydroxyl"), a more reactive form of H 2 OR that would have to be extracted from minerals.
We have known for some time that the Moon contains at least some water, but previous studies pointed out that water was present mainly in the north and south poles of the Moon, with only small amounts running through areas such as lava tubes emptied.
It is complicated because the methods to locate the water on the moon depend on the measurement of the force of the sunlight reflected on the surface of the Moon, which is modified by the presence of water. But the Moon can sometimes get warm enough to "shine" and produce its own light, which yields measurements in the search for water.
The new research used data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and its Moon Mineralogy Mapper spectrometer, which helped them create a means to measure the reflected sunlight that could be seen through the brightness of the Moon. And suddenly they discovered that there was more water than they expected.
According to Joshua Bandfield, lead author of the study and principal investigator of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, who said the following in a NASA press release:
"We found that it does not matter to what time of day or at what latitude we fix, the signal that indicates that water always seems to be present, the presence of water does not seem to depend on the presence of water, on the composition of the surface, and the water sticks around " .
Water, water, everywhere, but is there a drop to drink? The data from 2 lunar missions find evidence that the water of the Moon is widely distributed on the surface. If the Moon has enough access, it could be an essential resource for future explorers: https://t.co/4NuyjtO4uS pic.twitter.com/VlkTTKJqcp
– NASA (@NASA) February 24 , 2018
There are still many questions that need to be resolved before sending a new team of astronauts and telling them to drink whatever they find on the lunar surface. The nature of the water is not yet clear (knowing if we are detecting water or hydroxyl signals is an important distinction) and how easily it is accessible. The fact that it is everywhere does not mean that it is not difficult to extract, and the research suggests that the water would not be attached to the surface.
But it's a start. Eventually, we can send astronauts and tell them to drink whatever they find on the lunar surface. Only not yet.