Scientists say that they have found definitive evidence of water ice on the moon’s surface. A team of scientists led by Shuai Li, a researcher at the University of Hawaii’s Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, analyzed data obtained by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument to identify three specific chemical signatures that proved the presence of water ice. The discovery was described in a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The ice was detected at the darkest, coldest regions of the moon’s north and south poles, where temperatures never climb above minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of the very small tilt of the Moon’s rotation axis, sunlight never reaches these regions. Previous research had shown the existence of water deep beneath the lunar surface, but this is the first time indications have been found of water existing on the surface.
Learning more about this ice will be a key mission focus for NASA and commercial partners in the future. Future lunar expeditions might have a readily available source of water. However, it is unknown what would need to be done to the water ice to make it consumable for humans. The research did not detail what other substances may be in or surrounding the water ice.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, designed and built the moon mineralogy mapper instrument and was home to its project manager. The instrument was launched aboard Chandrayaan-1, an Indian spacecraft that explored the moon in 2008 and 2009. The instrument was designed to be able to directly measure the distinctive way ice molecules absorb infrared light, allowing it to differentiate between liquid water or vapor and solid ice.