Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) — Scientists have discovered a new, renewable source of water on the moon for future explorers in lunar samples taken from a Chinese mission.
The water was incorporated into tiny glass beads in the lunar dirt where meteorite impacts occur. These shiny, multicolored glass beads were present in samples returned from the Moon by China in 2020.
The beads range in size from the width of one hair to several hairs; The water content was just a tiny fraction of that, said Hejiu Hui of Nanjing University, who was involved in the study.
Since there are billions if not trillions of these impact beads, this could reach large amounts of water, but mining would be difficult, according to the team.
“Yeah, it’s going to take lots and lots of glass beads,” Hui said in an email. On the other hand, there are many, many beads on the moon.
These grains can continuously produce water thanks to the constant bombardment of hydrogen in the solar wind. The findings, published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, are based on 32 randomly selected glass beads of lunar dirt returned from the Chang’e 5 Moon mission.
Hui said more samples will be studied.
These impact grains are everywhere, the result of cooling molten material expelled by incoming space rocks. Water could be extracted by heating the beads, possibly by future robotic missions. More studies are needed to determine if this is possible, and if so, whether the water would be safe to drink.
This shows that “the water on the lunar surface can be recharged…a new water reservoir on the moon,” Hui said.
Previous studies have found water in glass beads formed by lunar volcanism, based on samples returned by Apollo astronauts on the lunar surface more than half a century ago. These could also provide water not only for use by future crews, but for rocket fuel.
NASA aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface by the end of 2025. They will target the south pole where the permanently shadowed craters are believed to be filled with frozen water.
___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Education Media group. AP is solely responsible for all content.
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