CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The moon’s shadowed, frigid nooks and crannies may hold frozen water in more places and in larger quantities than previously suspected. And for the first time, the presence of water on the moon’s sunlit surface has been confirmed, scientists reported Monday.
That’s good news for astronauts at future lunar bases who could tap into these resources for drinking and making rocket fuel.
While previous observations have indicated millions of tons of ice in the permanently shadowed craters of the moon’s poles, a pair of studies in the journal Nature Astronomy take the availability of lunar surface water to a new level.
More than 15,400 square miles (40,000 square kilometers) of lunar terrain have the capability to trap water in the form of ice, according to a team led by the University of Colorado’s Paul Hayne. That’s 20% more area than previous estimates, he said.
The presence of water in sunlit surfaces had been previously suggested, but not confirmed. The molecules are so far apart that they are in neither liquid nor solid form, said lead researcher Casey Honniball, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
“To be clear, this is not puddles of water,” she stressed at a news conference.
NASA's astrophysics director Paul Hertz said it's too soon to know whether this water — found in and around the southern hemisphere's sunlit Clavius Crater — would be accessible. The surface could be harder there, ruining wheels and drills.
These latest findings, nonetheless, expand the possible landing spots for robots and astronauts alike — “opening up real estate previously considered ‘off limits’ for being bone dry,” Hayne said in an email to The Associated Press.