Scientists have recently discovered a new, renewable source of water on the moon that could be invaluable for future lunar explorers. Tiny glass beads embedded in lunar dirt samples, collected by the Chinese Chang’e 5 moon mission in 2020, have been found to contain minuscule amounts of water. These findings, which were published in the journal Nature Geoscience, suggest that there may be a substantial amount of water available on the moon’s surface.
The glass beads were discovered in areas where meteorite impacts occur, and they come in a range of sizes, from the width of a single hair to that of several hairs. According to Hejiu Hui of Nanjing University, who participated in the study, the water content in these beads is a mere fraction of their size. However, given the sheer number of impact beads present on the moon, the total amount of water could be significant.
Extracting water from these glass beads may prove to be a challenging task. Hui explains that it would require collecting and processing vast quantities of beads. On the bright side, the moon is rich with these impact beads, which can continually yield water due to the constant bombardment of hydrogen in the solar wind.
The study, which analyzed 32 glass beads randomly selected from the lunar samples, has provided encouraging results. Nevertheless, further examination of more samples is necessary to determine the feasibility of extracting water from the beads and whether the water would be safe to drink. Potential extraction methods could include heating the beads with robotic missions, though more research is required.
This discovery is not the first time water has been found on the moon. Previous studies have identified water in glass beads formed by lunar volcanic activity, based on samples collected during the Apollo missions over half a century ago. These volcanic glass beads could also serve as a source of water for future lunar crews and even for rocket fuel.
NASA plans to send astronauts back to the lunar surface by the end of 2025, targeting the south pole, where permanently shadowed craters are believed to contain frozen water. This latest discovery of a new water reservoir on the moon could greatly contribute to the success of future lunar missions and open up new possibilities for exploration and habitation.