Science

Moon might be hiding large deposits of stationary water in OH form

If the moon contains enough water and this is reasonably convenient to access, future lunar explorers may be able to to use it as drinking water or even convert it to oxygen that may be used for breathing, or hydrogen that can fuel rockets.

Water is likely immobile & present in H2O or OH form on water, a study reveals

Moon is the nearest celestial body to Earth. It was one of the prime locations during the space race in the 20th century when NASA finally achieved the feat by launching a manned mission. Researchers have studied chemical composition, availability of water and other studies on the Earth’s satellite i.e. Moon. Lunar missions have declared that water is present on the moon in some form. As earlier believed, water is located near the poles or specific region only but a recent study suggests a completely different story. Recent analysis has confirmed that although water is present on the moon, it is evenly spread across the surface. But extracting it is a major challenge.

Researchers have put their efforts into finding water content on the Moon for a long time now. There are plans that space agencies had proposed if water is found on the moon. For instance, it can act as a jumping-off point or stop point for missions across the solar system and more. Availability of water content would help the astronauts avoid taking water on the mission. Instead, they would extract and drink water right on the moon when needed or convert into oxygen and hydrogen to be used as breathable oxygen or rocket fuel i.e. refueling stations. As per Joshua Bandfield, a lead author and a senior research scientist at Space Science Institute traces of water on the moon seems like it is not moving. However, the only concern is if it is actually available, how to extract it from the surface. The study is published in Natural Geoscience.

In past, content and availability of water on the moon was calculated based on the data collected presented by previous researchers. Additionally, findings from studies that detect presence of chemical composition by evaluating the light reflected by the surface. The resultant model can have favorable output. Opposing to that, even a slight change in the temperature variant on the moon can change the findings. Therefore, researchers have developed a new model which takes account of all the variants as well as temperature shifts to prepare an actual image depicting water content on moon that could help future astronauts on their journey to moon and back.

The recent findings eventually clashed with few other studies made in the past such as the availability of water at the polar latitudes of Moon, strength of the signal of water waxes and wanes based on the time of the day on the moon (Lunar Day). It was revealed that water molecules have undergone motion until they reach the cold traps. A  cold trap is essentially a region which is extremely cold and where water and other molecules stay steady and stable until it is under its influence. This  explained why the signals reported waxes and wanes in the daytime on the moon while during the dark, the molecules undergo cold trap and thus become stable.

There’s more to it. Scientists believe that water on moon is present in the form of reactive OH group. OH or hydroxyl consists of one hydrogen atom and one oxygen atom which prefers being in bonds and not single and therefore, it is highly reactive. If indeed there is water in OH form, then the scientists will have to find that way to extract water from the surface and, from the hydroxyl group to produce safe drinking water or for other purposes. This also includes searching the origin of water as in how it actually came to be on the moon as well as how much content of water is likely available on the surface for extraction and consumption.

Following is the extract of the study

Remote-sensing data from lunar orbiters have revealed spectral features consistent with the presence of OH or H2O on the lunar surface. Analyses of data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper spectrometer onboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft have suggested that OH/H2O is recycled on diurnal timescales and persists only at high latitudes. However, the spatial distribution and temporal variability of the OH/H2O, as well as its source, remain uncertain. Here we incorporate a physics-based thermal correction into analysis of reflectance spectra from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper and find that prominent absorption features consistent with OH/H2O can be present at all latitudes, local times and surface types examined. This suggests the widespread presence of OH/H2O on the lunar surface without significant diurnal migration. We suggest that the spectra are consistent with the production of OH in space-weathered materials by the solar wind implantation of H+ and formation of OH at crystal defect sites, as opposed to H2O sourced from the lunar interior. Regardless of the specific composition or formation mechanism, we conclude that OH/H2O can be present on the Moon under thermal conditions more wide-ranging than previously recognized.

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