Water Ice on the moon is definitively confirmed

There has been directly observed definitive evidence of water ice on the Moon’s surface. These ice deposits are patchily distributed and could possibly be ancient. At the southern pole, most of the ice is concentrated at lunar craters, while the northern pole’s ice is more widely, but sparsely spread.

A team of scientists, led by Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii and Brown University and including Richard Elphic from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, used data from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument to identify three specific signatures that definitively prove there is water ice at the surface of the Moon.

M3, aboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, launched in 2008 by the Indian Space Research Organization, was uniquely equipped to confirm the presence of solid ice on the Moon. It collected data that not only picked up the reflective properties we’d expect from ice, but was able to directly measure the distinctive way its molecules absorb infrared light, so it can differentiate between liquid water or vapor and solid ice.

Most of the newfound water ice lies in the shadows of craters near the poles, where the warmest temperatures never reach above -250 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of the very small tilt of the Moon’s rotation axis, sunlight never reaches these regions.

Previous observations indirectly found possible signs of surface ice at the lunar south pole, but these could have been explained by other phenomena, such as unusually reflective lunar soil.

With enough ice sitting at the surface – within the top few millimeters – water would possibly be accessible as a resource for future expeditions to explore and even stay on the Moon, and potentially easier to access than the water detected beneath the Moon’s surface.

Learning more about this ice, how it got there, and how it interacts with the larger lunar environment will be a key mission focus for NASA and commercial partners, as we endeavor to return to and explore our closest neighbor, the Moon.

PNAS – Direct evidence of surface exposed water ice in the lunar polar regions

Significance

We found direct and definitive evidence for surface-exposed water ice in the lunar polar regions. The abundance and distribution of ice on the Moon are distinct from those on other airless bodies in the inner solar system such as Mercury and Ceres, which may be associated with the unique formation and evolution process of our Moon. These ice deposits might be utilized as an in situ resource in future exploration of the Moon.

Abstract

Water ice may be allowed to accumulate in permanently shaded regions on airless bodies in the inner solar system such as Mercury, the Moon, and Ceres [Watson K, et al. (1961) J Geophys Res 66:3033–3045]. Unlike Mercury and Ceres, direct evidence for water ice exposed at the lunar surface has remained elusive. We utilize indirect lighting in regions of permanent shadow to report the detection of diagnostic near-infrared absorption features of water ice in reflectance spectra acquired by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper [M (3)] instrument. Several thousand M (3) pixels (∼280 × 280 m) with signatures of water ice at the optical surface (depth of less than a few millimeters) are identified within 20° latitude of both poles, including locations where independent measurements have suggested that water ice may be present. Most ice locations detected in M (3) data also exhibit lunar orbiter laser altimeter reflectance values and Lyman Alpha Mapping Project instrument UV ratio values consistent with the presence of water ice and also exhibit annual maximum temperatures below 110 K. However, only ∼3.5% of cold traps exhibit ice exposures. Spectral modeling shows that some ice-bearing pixels may contain ∼30 wt % ice that is intimately mixed with dry regolith. The patchy distribution and low abundance of lunar surface-exposed water ice might be associated with the true polar wander and impact gardening. The observation of spectral features of H2O confirms that water ice is trapped and accumulates in permanently shadowed regions of the Moon, and in some locations, it is exposed at the modern optical surface.

18 thoughts on “Water Ice on the moon is definitively confirmed”

  1. Wholeheartedly agree with you, but talking about Mars always gets the public excited about space and it’s probably a good tactic for trying to get more funding. It’s a positive step to see that an Indian spacecraft gathered the data used for the analysis, too. Collaboration is something the international community is scarce of these days.

    Reply
  2. Wholeheartedly agree with you but talking about Mars always gets the public excited about space and it’s probably a good tactic for trying to get more funding. It’s a positive step to see that an Indian spacecraft gathered the data used for the analysis too. Collaboration is something the international community is scarce of these days.

    Reply
  3. Don’t some people argue that the poles are a better place to build a station anyway, regardless of the water? Logic being that a polar mountain might have direct sunlight all the time, which means you don’t have to deal with a fortnight without solar power.

    Reply
  4. 30% water is a lot higher than I’d thought they were talking about. I thought previous reports were like 0.3%, which is basically any rock you find on Earth. 30% is frozen mud.

    Reply
  5. Can quite easily make water from lunar rock with an energy source. You need a little hydrogen to get started but then you are in business. And you can stay at the equator. Folks at CIEMAT did a proof of concept not to long ago. Pretty neat.

    Reply
  6. Don’t some people argue that the poles are a better place to build a station anyway regardless of the water? Logic being that a polar mountain might have direct sunlight all the time which means you don’t have to deal with a fortnight without solar power.

    Reply
  7. 30{22800fc54956079738b58e74e4dcd846757aa319aad70fcf90c97a58f3119a12} water is a lot higher than I’d thought they were talking about. I thought previous reports were like 0.3{22800fc54956079738b58e74e4dcd846757aa319aad70fcf90c97a58f3119a12} which is basically any rock you find on Earth. 30{22800fc54956079738b58e74e4dcd846757aa319aad70fcf90c97a58f3119a12} is frozen mud.

    Reply
  8. Can quite easily make water from lunar rock with an energy source. You need a little hydrogen to get started but then you are in business. And you can stay at the equator. Folks at CIEMAT did a proof of concept not to long ago. Pretty neat.

    Reply
  9. Aside from the romance of going to Mars, it makes a lot more sense to start with colonizing the Moon. The Moon is always about a quarter million miles away and you don’t have to wait 18 months for the right launch window and then spend 6-8 months to get to Mars. The rest is pretty much the same: you can’t breath on either world. Both worlds produce insufficient gravity to keep bodies healthy and we’ll probably have to add weights to spacesuits, even indoors, just to work out muscles the way they’re intended to work. Neither world has sufficient cosmic ray protection so underground or very sheltered habitats are required. The day/night cycle doesn’t exist on the Moon, but you’re indoors most of the time anyway. It’s a lot safer to get to the Moon and even rescue ships are doable with enough foresight. It’s a lot cheaper too.

    Reply
  10. Aside from the romance of going to Mars it makes a lot more sense to start with colonizing the Moon. The Moon is always about a quarter million miles away and you don’t have to wait 18 months for the right launch window and then spend 6-8 months to get to Mars. The rest is pretty much the same: you can’t breath on either world. Both worlds produce insufficient gravity to keep bodies healthy and we’ll probably have to add weights to spacesuits even indoors just to work out muscles the way they’re intended to work. Neither world has sufficient cosmic ray protection so underground or very sheltered habitats are required. The day/night cycle doesn’t exist on the Moon but you’re indoors most of the time anyway.It’s a lot safer to get to the Moon and even rescue ships are doable with enough foresight. It’s a lot cheaper too.

    Reply
  11. Wholeheartedly agree with you, but talking about Mars always gets the public excited about space and it’s probably a good tactic for trying to get more funding. It’s a positive step to see that an Indian spacecraft gathered the data used for the analysis, too. Collaboration is something the international community is scarce of these days.

    Reply
  12. Aside from the romance of going to Mars, it makes a lot more sense to start with colonizing the Moon. The Moon is always about a quarter million miles away and you don’t have to wait 18 months for the right launch window and then spend 6-8 months to get to Mars.
    The rest is pretty much the same: you can’t breath on either world. Both worlds produce insufficient gravity to keep bodies healthy and we’ll probably have to add weights to spacesuits, even indoors, just to work out muscles the way they’re intended to work. Neither world has sufficient cosmic ray protection so underground or very sheltered habitats are required. The day/night cycle doesn’t exist on the Moon, but you’re indoors most of the time anyway.
    It’s a lot safer to get to the Moon and even rescue ships are doable with enough foresight. It’s a lot cheaper too.

    Reply
  13. Don’t some people argue that the poles are a better place to build a station anyway, regardless of the water?
    Logic being that a polar mountain might have direct sunlight all the time, which means you don’t have to deal with a fortnight without solar power.

    Reply
  14. 30% water is a lot higher than I’d thought they were talking about. I thought previous reports were like 0.3%, which is basically any rock you find on Earth. 30% is frozen mud.

    Reply
  15. Can quite easily make water from lunar rock with an energy source. You need a little hydrogen to get started but then you are in business. And you can stay at the equator. Folks at CIEMAT did a proof of concept not to long ago. Pretty neat.

    Reply

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