Moon's glass beads contain enough water to support a mission
Thought Icelandic glacier water was rare? How about chugging down some Moon water
Scientists in China have found glass beads contained in lunar soil might hold enough water to provide a resource for future lunar missions.
The results, published in Nature Geoscience this week, stem from data collected by China's Chang'e-5 mission, and suggest the Moon's surface holds much more trapped water than previously thought and the liquid compound vital to continuing life could be relatively easy to extract.
Small glass beads created when meteorites smash into the lunar surface have long been considered a candidate for water storage. Using samples from the Apollo 11 mission, a US study published in 2012 found between 200 and 300 parts per million of water and hydroxyl (OH) in the glass beads they contained.
However, the water content of these glass beads was not investigated in detail, according to the paper, led by Hejiu Hui, professor at Nanjing University, China Sen Hu, professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, China.
"Our direct measurements of this surface reservoir of lunar water show that impact glass beads can store substantial quantities of solar wind-derived water on the Moon and suggest that impact glass may be water reservoirs on other airless bodies," the paper says.
The researchers looked at 117 impact glass beads "hand-picked" from a lunar soil sample scooped by the CE5 lander robotic arm. They studied them using field-emission scanning electron microscopy (SEM), an electron probe microanalyzer (EPMA), and Raman spectroscopy. They found the glass beads contain between zero and 1,909 μg of water equivalent per gram.
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Water made it into the beads via the solar winds, the reasoning goes. Solar winds are a plasma emitted from the sun containing hydrogen ions. On earth, they cause the aurora borealis and aurora australis, owing to an interaction with the Earth's magnetic field in the upper atmosphere. As the Moon has no magnetic field, the solar winds can reach its surface and interact with minerals in the soils containing oxygen. Because the solar wind is always, erm, blowing, the water in the beads is replenished.
"We estimate that the amount of water hosted by impact glass beads in lunar soils may reach up to 2.7 × 1,014 kg. Our direct measurements of this surface reservoir of lunar water show that impact glass beads can store substantial quantities of solar wind-derived water on the Moon and suggest that impact glass may be water reservoirs on other airless bodies," the study concludes. ®