Two recent lunar missions came back with new answers to the question "is there water on the moon?" NASA analysis shows that the moon's water can be found throughout more of the lunar surface than previously believed possible. It can also be found in a variety of terrains and present both day and night.
These new discoveries could help researchers both figure out where the moon's water came from and also potentially how humans might tap into it as a resource in the future.
Moon's water as a resource to offset earthly shortages
Currently, in the world, over 1.1 billion people lack access to water and over 2.7 billion endure water scarcity at least once a month. By 2025, the World Wildlife Fund estimates that two-thirds of the global population will face water shortages.
Ever since water was found on the lunar surface, people have theorized what it would be like to use that water as a resource to offset earthly shortages -- at least until a long-term solution is found to global water issues.
"We find that it doesn't matter what time of day or which latitude we look at, the signal indicating water always seems to be present," said Joshua Bandfield, a senior research scientist with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and lead author of the new study published in Nature Geoscience. "The presence of water doesn't appear to depend on the composition of the surface, and the water sticks around."
New analysis overturns long-held belief that the moon is dry
The new results actually contradict a few earlier studies which suggested the long-held belief that the moon's pools held much of the frozen water.
Given the most recent information, NASA suggested that these water molecules can "hop" across the lunar surface until they get trapped in craters in the north or south poles. Cold traps are regions so cold, water vapor that comes into contact with those areas and surfaces will be stable for up to several billion years.
In order to make their discoveries, the NASA research team used remote-sensing instruments that took in the strength of sunlight reflecting off of the moon's surface. These instruments can pick up a particular type of "fingerprint" of wavelengths whenever water is present.
The remote-sensing guides identify these trace amounts of water at 3 micrometers of wavelengths, which is beyond visible light and closer to infrared radiation. Effectively, these instruments are trying to pick up the moons natural "glow" and using it to determine water.
There are still questions regarding how immobile or mobile this water would be for transport and potential usage. The researchers are still trying to determine where the source of the OH and H2O found throughout the lunar surface.
"By putting some limits on how mobile the water or the OH on the surface is, we can help constrain how much water could reach the cold traps in the polar regions," said Michael Poston of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.
The NASA team still have to discuss further what these new discoveries mean for the sources of water on the moon. Hopefully, more research and more time observing the moon will slowly answer these long-asked questions.
"Some of these scientific problems are very, very difficult, and it's only by drawing on multiple resources from different missions that are we able to hone in on an answer," said LRO project scientist John Keller of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.