The moon, long thought to be bone-dry, actually has a little water, new research shows.
When Man first recorded features he saw on the Moon before the first telescopes, he assumed the large, smooth dark regions were seas just like on Earth.
He gave them Latin names like Mare Tranquillitatis (the Sea of Tranquility) and Oceanus Procellarum (the Ocean of Storms).
But many years later scientists put our natural satellite under proper scrutiny and found that the “seas” were really vast plains of lava that had flowed from within and solidified billions of years ago. Far from being Earth-like, the Moon was a dry, dusty world, drier than the most arid desert on our own planet.
Now in an astonishing reversal of ideas, new research shows that those Moon rocks are not as dry as was long assumed. There are certainly no rivers, lakes or any other liquid water. But a special form of it – hydroxyls – appears to be locked away in the lava. Experts say it could be converted easily into normal water just by heating it.
The implications are hugely significant for space exploration as well as astronomy. It means that setting up lunar colonies and observatories where astronauts and scientists could develop a permanent presence becomes a real possibility (given a change in political will, of course). There will be no need for the hugely expensive transportation of water supplies from Earth to keep our explorers alive.
Surprisingly perhaps, the new finding comes following a reaxamination of lunar basalt brought back to Earth by Apollo 14 astronauts nearly 40 years ago in 1971. Geologists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the University of Tennessee found structurally bound hydroxyl groups in the rock – in other words water.
Jeremy Boyce, main author of a paper about the discovery in the science joural Nature this week, said: “The fact that we were able to quantitatively measure significant amounts of water in a lunar mineral is truly surprising.”