NASA's Experts Found Water Molecules On The Moon. It Can Change Everything

Jul 05, 2021Roshanak

It’s widely known that the Moon is Earth’s natural satellite, but it would be impossible for any kind of life to survive there. Thanks to years of research and a special project called LAMP, NASA has discovered lunar water, and it could change everything for astronauts. But they also learned that their theories about lunar liquid were wrong in key aspects. How? Let’s find out!

Image Credits: Youtube/NASA Goddard

WONDERING ABOUT THE MOON

Humanity has been fascinated by the Moon forever, as it’s the closest celestial body to Earth. But mankind was only able to explore it with the technology and advancements of the 20th century. There are new findings to uncover every single day, and NASA has recently revealed that what they knew/theorized about water on the lunar surface is false. This discovery is a huge advantage for space travel and may impact the future in unbelievable ways…

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THE FIRST TO GET CLOSE

In the 1950s, the Soviet Union set their eyes on going to the Moon, and they had a more advanced space program than anyone else at the time. By the end of that decade, they managed to get close to Earth’s natural satellite with Luna 1. Their Luna 2 was the first human object to reach the Moon in 1959. Finally, Luna 3 was the first spacecraft to get to the dark side of this celestial body. It was a never-before-seen moment for humankind. It would also start the so-called “Space Race”…

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THE MOON RACE

By the beginning of the 1960s, the Soviets reached another milestone: sending a man to space. Astronaut Yuri Gagarin was the first person to ever reach Earth’s orbit in 1961. That’s when President John F. Kennedy urged their scientists to work and promised that the U.S. would reach the Moon first. Over the next couple of years, there were several unmanned operations to the natural satellite to gather data on its atmosphere. What they discovered eventually helped get them there…

Image Credits: Youtube/NBC News

LUNAR ENVIRONMENT

Researchers were able to learn many things about the Moon thanks to these missions. One of their main discoveries is that the lunar surface was covered in all kinds of craters and most of the landscape has thin dust. Additionally, all the rocks on the Moon were rather similar to those found on Earth. But the main difference is that there was no atmosphere or magnetic field like there is on our planet. What did that imply?

Image Credits: Wikipedia/Rolbox292638, The Moon from Earth, CC BY-SA 4.0

APOLLO 8

By the end of the 1960s, the race towards the Moon was in full swing, and the United States sent the first manned mission on Apollo 8. It was the first to ever leave Earth’s low orbit, and it traveled around the natural satellite for around 24 hours. Therefore, it was the first time that people got to see the Moon with their own eyes from close proximity. But several more months were needed before the historical Moon landing…

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THE FIRSTS ON THE MOON

Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins traveled on Apollo 11, which landed on the Moon on July 20th, 1969. The astronauts explored the surface for several hours and collected rocks to take back to Earth. Thanks to them, researchers back on Earth were able to determine that the farthest side of the natural satellite was made from solidified volcanic lava dating back to billions of years ago. But the rocks also revealed something else…

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ROCK FRAGMENTS

The samples that these astronauts brought back were similar to those on Earth, except for being much drier. Therefore, researchers believed that the Moon had no real water on its surface and that it never did. Can you imagine the surprise when future scientists discover that they were completely wrong? Well, not all researchers agreed back then…

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THEORIZING ABOUT WATER

Although the rock fragments seemed to state that there was no water on the Moon, some scientists still believed in its possibility. By the 1990s, their theories would be proven in a certain way. Thanks to the Clementine spacecraft, researchers discovered that there might be ice on the natural satellite. However, this ice would never see sunlight, and therefore, could never melt into water. Were they right?

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NOT LIQUID

The Clementine findings posit that there’s no water in liquid form on the Moon. Molecules could evaporate into space and go beyond, but there could not be any on the lunar surface. It was theorized, then, that this ice could only appear on the poles of the Moon, where the temperatures would be at their lowest. This theory would be proven true many decades later…

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A HYPOTHESIS

It’s not that crazy to believe that ice reserves were only present on the coolest parts of the Moon. It’s actually logical, but without further exploration, there’s no way to prove it. Luckily, in 2018, scientists definitively found ice on the Moon. Furthermore, its location around the lunar surface suggested that this ice could date back many years. It was time to map these areas…

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MAPPING LOCATIONS OF ICE

With these discoveries, researchers started mapping the ice deposits on the Moon. They also found out that they were mostly right in the assumption that the great majority of them were located at the poles. On the south side, the reserves were located in lunar crates, while in the north, they spanned larger areas. Their location is due to their exposure to light…

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ONLY IN CERTAIN AREAS

So, it was confirmed that the ice reserves on the Moon were located in the farthest areas from the Sun, where conditions are extreme. In these regions, the temperature doesn’t go above -250 °F because these regions never experience light due to the axis inclination of the natural satellite. Can you imagine places that never see the Sun? There’s a reason why they talk about “the dark side of the Moon”. Meanwhile, let’s learn about the people behind these discoveries!

Image Credits: Getty Images/NASA.

THE RESEARCHERS

The leader of the researchers behind this project works at Brown University as well as the University of Hawaii. With the help of Richard Elphic at NASA’s Ames Research Center, they were able to determine the presence of ice on certain areas of the Moon. Additionally, they used important technology from NASA called the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, which is known as M3. Ice has been seen in other outer space bodies, but the one on the Moon is different…

Image Credits: Getty Images/DIBYANGSHU SARKAR

DIFFERENT ICE THAN IN MERCURY AND CERES

“We found that the distribution of ice on the lunar surface is very patchy, which is very different from other planetary bodies such as Mercury and Ceres where the ice is relatively pure and abundant,” Li explained in a statement in 2018. “The spectral features of our detected ice suggest that they were formed by slow condensation from a vapor phase – either due to impact or water migration from space.” How did the M3 make it to the Moon?

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THE M3

The Moon Mineralogy Mapper departed on its mission back in 2008 thanks to the Indian spacecraft Chandrayaan-1. It was made only to discover ice on the Moon because this ice could be used for something rather important. But you will find out more about that later. The M3 detects the reflection of ice as well as how it works with infrared light. But there’s also another important purpose…

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IDENTIFIES VAPOR, LIQUID, AND ICE

The artifact is also equipped to determine whether water is present in vapor, liquid, or ice form which was vital for NASA. Researchers had already believed in the potential of ice on the surface of the Moon, but only these discoveries proved their theories right. You might believe that the presence of water could indicate that people might be able to live in outer space in the future. However, humanity is not there yet. This water discovery will be utilized in other ways…

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THE IMPLICATIONS OF WATER ON THE MOON

Discovering water outside Earth is a huge advancement in the field of space travel, although it’s not on an ‘Interstellar’ level yet. However, astronauts might be able to use these ice deposits in other missions. If they can find basic necessities in outer space, it cuts down on costs on Earth. But this ice will not be used just for drinking or surviving. It’s more important than that…

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COULD BE AN ASSET IN SPACE TRAVEL

NASA has been eyeing ways to use Moon water since 2009. “It can be used for drinking water. You can break it down and have breathable air for crews,” NASA’s chief lunar scientist Mike Wargo explained to the BBC. “But also, if you have significant quantities of this stuff, you have the constituents of one of the most potent rocket fuels: oxygen and hydrogen.” If astronauts could get more fuel right in outer space, it would change the face of space travel forever…

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WILL BE EXPLORING FURTHER

Therefore, learning more about these ice deposits is one of NASA’s main priorities right now, especially because the interest in going to space has increased in the last few years. It might be due, in part, to SpaceX, a private company, whereas everything related to that belonged to government organizations. NASA is also trying to understand how there’s ice at all on the Moon, and it has many projects in the works…

Image Credits: Youtube/Fraser Cain

NASA HAS MORE PROJECTS IN THE WORKS

While NASA has several ongoing projects regarding the Moon, they actually discovered something cool in March 2019. While ice deposits remain on the poles as the Sun doesn’t touch these areas, researchers uncovered that water moves around the landscape of the natural satellite as it rotates and depending on where light hits. How did they determine this?

Image Credits: Youtube/Fraser Cain

THE LRO SPACECRAFT

This new information came from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, also known as the LRO. It’s another spacecraft from NASA, but this one maps the surface of the Moon. The artifact is in orbit right now and is used being to locate resources, take note of radiation levels as well as seek out landing areas on the Moon. But the LRO helped launch another major project…

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THE LAMP

Using the information acquired by the LRO, researchers have launched the Lyman Alpha Mapping Project, also known as LAMP. This particular exploration takes notes of the particles on the surface of the Moon. This way, scientists can understand how water acts in this environment and how it can change every day. Amazingly, it has uncovered some interesting data…

Image Credits: Youtube/NASA Goddard

WHAT THEY BELIEVED BEFORE

The knowledge of the Moon has changed so much since the first landing, it’s almost unbelievable. It was believed to be completely dry. Afterward, Li and other researchers learned about ice deposits in the poles and areas that never had any sunlight, but there’s something new now. It doesn’t exactly disprove the former discovery, but it expands on it…

Image Credits: Youtube/NASA Goddard

WATER MOVED AROUND THE MOON

Turns out that there are tiny particles of water moving around the surface of the Moon at given times. The molecules were found during the early hours of each lunar day, right before the Sun’s light hit the natural satellite. As the day progressed, and the lunar surface started to get hotter, the water moved. But there’s more…

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IN THE ATMOSPHERE

The water particles were released from the dirt on the Moon and would move around its surface. They would sometimes settle in cooler areas or they could remain on the almost-nonexistent atmosphere on the natural satellite. Once the temperature cooled back down, it would return to the surface as it was earlier. What does this mean?

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A DEDICATED SCIENTIST

Dr. Michael Poston from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, has been studying lunar water deposits for many years. This discovery was one of the greatest in his career, but before joining LAMP, he had also worked on lunar samples. This means that he studied the things that the Apollo missions brought back to Earth. What can the movement of water molecules teach these scientists?

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THE AMOUNT OF ENERGY

Basically, this discovery means that now scientists might be able to detect how much energy is needed to obtain the water particles on the lunar surface. It also further enlightened on how water can remain on the soil in an extremely harsh environment. Both of these are vital if astronauts ever hope to use this potential water source in the future. Dr. Poston explained more in a statement…

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CLOSER TO UNDERSTANDING

“Lunar hydration is tricky to measure from orbit due to the complex way that light reflects off the lunar surface,” Poston explained. “Previous research reported quantities of hopping water molecules that were too large to explain with known physical processes. I’m excited about these latest results because the amount of water interpreted here is consistent with what lab measurements indicate is possible.” Another expert explained more...

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THIS DISCOVERY OPENS DOORS

Poston’s colleague Dr. Kurt Retherford is the lead researcher of the LAMP artifact. In the same statement, he commented, “This is an important new result about lunar water – a hot topic as our nation’s space program returns to a focus on lunar exploration.” He also went into further detail about the technology that made this discovery possible…

Image Credits: Youtube/NASA Goddard

TRACKING WATER’S MOVEMENT

“We recently converted the LAMP’s light collection mode to measure reflected signals on the lunar dayside with more precision, allowing us to track more accurately where the water is and how much is present,” Retherford added. It also looks like this project has also uncovered more about the lunar water cycle…

Image Credits: Youtube/NASA Goddard

THE MOON’S WATER CYCLE

Aside from the water’s movement across the surface and environment of the Moon, LAMP also learned about the water cycle on the natural satellite, which is different from that of Earth. This information helped discard a popular hypothesis regarding how water came to appear on the celestial body in the first place. What’s this theory?

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COVERED FROM SOLAR WINDS

Scientists used to believe that hydrogen ions from solar winds were responsible for the presence of water on the Moon. But when the natural satellite moves behind the Earth, it’s protected from these winds. So, the original theory posited that its water source was cut off during these times. New information suggests that that’s not the case…

Image Credits: Youtube/TODAY

KEPT GROWING

Thanks to LAMP, they have discovered that the Moon’s water supply did not go down during the times when the Earth blocked solar winds. In fact, it seems that this water increases somehow without being influenced by solar winds at all. These findings also help NASA's plan for future explorations…

Image Credits: Wikipedia/Public Domain

ACCESSING THIS WATER

Scientist Amanda Hendrix helped shed more light on the importance of LAMP’s discoveries. “These results aid in understanding the lunar water cycle and will ultimately help us learn about accessibility of water that can be used by humans in future missions to the Moon,” she explained. Hendrix also talked about the possibility of making fuel from these deposits…

Image Credits: Youtube/Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum

USING IT FOR FUEL

“Lunar water can potentially be used by humans to make fuel or to use for radiation shielding or thermal management,” she added. “If these materials do not need to be launched from Earth, that makes these future missions more affordable.” While this is fantastic news, it might be many years away. And there are still many mysteries surrounding the Moon that researchers can’t wait to explore.

Image Credits: Youtube/NASA Scientific Visualization Studio

While the full implications of this discovery are not so clear to regular people, NASA is making headway with new space programs and more. Perhaps space travel is not as far as we believe it to be. Let us know what you think about the evidence of water on the Moon. If you liked this article, share it with your friends who love science. See you next time!

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