Researchers have previously suspected that the moon was harbouring some precious H2O but up until recently the theory has gone unproven.
The old traps, areas which are considered to be permanently covered in shadow, have been found to be harbouring over 40,000 square metres of frozen water.
The discovery has changed the future nature of space missions as trips can now be prolonged. The water which is suspected to be trapped in glass, would soon theoretically be used to create drinking water and oxygen in order to sustain colonies.
NASA’s research has taken upwards of a decade to complete after a study published in 2009 found compounds of hydrogen and oxygen on the surface of the Moon.
Up until recently, researchers simply did not have the technology to determine whether the compounds present equated to water or hydroxyl compounds, a chemical commonly used in drain cleaner.
However, after sending a Boeing 747, fully equipped with a giant microscope, 12,500 metres in the air, scientists finally got their answer.
NASA’s previous technology could only measure at a wavelength of three micro-metres and was simply not enough to distinguish between the two compounds. However, SOFIA, short for Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is equipped with a rare six-micrometre sensor that is able to detect the molecular vibration that is completely unique to water.
The SOFIA study’s more advanced equipment was able to detect water on the moon’s Clavius crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth.
The discovery has acted as conclusive proof that there is water on the sunlight surface of the Moon. Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters stated:
We had indications that H2O – the familiar water we know – might be present on the sunlit side of the Moon. Now we know it is there. This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about resources relevant for deep space exploration.
The study published in the journal, Nature Astronomy stated that the water in the Moon’s south pole is relatively abundant at 100-400 parts per million. Just for perspective, NASAclaims this is about ‘100 times drier than the Sahara Desert’. Dr Ben Montet from the University of New South Wales clarified further:
We haven't found a fountain or lake on the moon, the water density is very low, it is confined to the poles, and is likely trapped in glasses or rocks on the surface.
The second study that was most recently published focused more on where on the Moon the water could be found. The study suggests that over 60% of the water on the Moon can be found in the south pole.
The study added to the hypothesis that the Moon’s cold traps were ideal for preserving water as ice due to its temperatures that can plummet to around -163.15°C.
Dr Paul Hayne from the University of Colorado, Boulder, led the project to determine just how much water is stored in the Moon’s poles. Looking at the craters, the study determined that some are as large as one kilometre while some reach just a centimetre in width.
However, one-fifth of the water determined to be in these areas sits in the tiniest of craters. In total, a whole 40,000 square kilometres of water is held in the cold traps of the Moon. That’s twice the size of Lake Ontario.
Now, scientists can focus on how to harbour the potential of the water. Many researchers suspect that the new resource could be game-changing for space missions and could be used to create jet fuel and even sustain a small colony as proposed by the NASA Artemis Mission.
Professor Alan Duffy, the lead scientist of The Royal Institution of Australia, stated:
To launch a litre bottle of water from Earth to the Moon costs $35,000 – almost the same cost as if we just made that bottle solid gold. But, by accessing it directly from the Moon itself we turn our celestial neighbour into a resupply as well as a refuelling station. Water can directly support astronauts on a planned Moon-base, used to grow food on long-duration missions to Mars, and even split into literal rocket fuel for powering our satellites and rockets across the Solar System.
Looks like we’ve made the first step to living on the Moon!