Water-moon map created for the first time

For the first time in history, researchers have managed to map the spread of water across the moon's surface.
By James Smith | Sep 21, 2017
A group of astronomers from Brown University have created the first-ever map of water distribution on the moon, according to recent researchpublishedin the journal Science Advances.

Scientists conducted the new study by looking at data from NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper, an instrument flown on India's 2009 Chandrayaan-1 Moon mission in 2009. That year, NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) found traces of water -- along with the related molecule, hydroxil -- at multiple places along the lunar surface.

Such information enabled the team in the study to build a complete map of water concentration levels in the upper parts of the moon's soil. They found that, while most of the water is concentrated on the moon's poles, it exists across the whole lunar surface.

In the polar regions, the highest concentration of water averages between 500 and 750 parts per million, which is much lower than the amount found in Earth's driest deserts. That distribution stays constant across most of the surface, but the team did note higher concentrations of water in volcanic deposits near the equator.

"This is a road map to where water exists on the surface of the Moon," said study co-author Ralph Milliken, a researcher at Brown University, according to The Space Reporter. "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."

While the new findings shed light on the moon's water distribution, scientists are still not sure if the liquid is the result of solar wind or magma in the mantle. The even distribution suggests solar winds brought the liquid in, but water near the volcanic deposits could also mean magma brought it to the surface.

Though that question is still a mystery, the team believes fluctuating water levels on the surface reveal active water formation still occurs today in the Moon's soil. However, more studies are going to be needed before scientists can determine if water exists below the upper part of the soil or if it is present in the craters that do not see any light.

"We're only sensing the upper millimeter or so of soil, and we can't say for sure what the water content is like underneath that," added Milliken, according to Seeker. "The distribution of water with depth could make a big difference in terms of how much water is actually there."

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