Using data from a NASA instrument aboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, a team of scientists has confirmed there is water ice on the surface of the Moon.
In the darkest and coldest parts of Moon’s polar regions, the team led by Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii and Brown University for the first time directly observed definitive evidence of water ice on the Moon’s surface.
NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument M3, aboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft — launched in 2008 by the Indian Space Research Organisation — was uniquely equipped to confirm the presence of solid ice on the Moon.
“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 endeavour to return to and explore our closest neighbour, the Moon,” said the findings published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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 are patchily distributed and could possibly be ancient.
At the southern pole, most of the ice is concentrated at the lunar craters, while the northern pole’s ice is more widely but sparsely spread.
The team included Richard Elphic from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.
“M3 collected data that not only picked up the reflective properties we’d expect from ice, but was also able to directly measure the distinctive way its molecules absorb infrared light, so it can differentiate between liquid water or vapor and solid ice,” said the researchers.
Most of the newfound water ice lies in the shadows of craters near the poles, where the warmest temperatures never reach above minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
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.
According to the team, 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.
In 2017, using data taken from M3, scientists had created the first global map of water in the Moon’s soil. IANS