Scientists find source of water on the moon which 'may support life'

Scientists find new and renewable source of water on the moon which ‘may support human life’

  • The findings came from samples recovered by China’s Chang’e 5 moon mission
  • Scientists found water embedded in glass beads from meteorite impacts

A new and renewable source of water has been found on the moon which could make it easier for future explorers to live there, Chinese scientists say.

Water embedded in tiny glass beads in the lunar dirt where meteorite impacts had take place was found in samples brought back from the moon by China in 2020.

It was found the water in these shiny, multicoloured beads would be relatively easy to extract, with suggestions they could even be used for fuel or for astronauts to drink.

Experts have known there is water on moon for years in the form of ice in shaded regions at its poles – but the new findings could be evidence of a continuous water cycle, scientists say.

The samples were recovered by Beijing’s Chang’e 5 moon mission, with the findings published on Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

A moon sample from China’s Chang’e 5 mission, which found glass beads which had water embedded in them in the lunar dirt

The Long March 5 Y5 rocket, carrying the Chang’e 5 lunar probe, takes off from Wenchang Space Launch Centre in Hainan province, China, in November 2020

Hejiu Hui, of Nanjing University, who took part in the study, said the results from the 32 randomly selected glass beads found them to range in size from the width of one hair to several hairs; the water content was just a minuscule fraction of that.

Since there are billions if not trillions of these impact beads, that could amount to substantial amounts of water, but mining it would be tough, according to the team. 

‘Yes, it will require lots and lots of glass beads,’ Hui said. 

‘On the other hand, there are lots and lots of beads on the moon.’ 

These beads could continually yield water thanks to the constant bombardment by hydrogen in the solar wind. 

More samples will be studied, Hui said. 

These impact beads are everywhere, the result of the cooling of melted material ejected by incoming space rocks. 

Water could be extracted by heating the beads, possibly by future robotic missions. 

More studies are needed to determine whether this would be feasible and, if so, whether the water would be safe to drink. 

People look at a screen showing footage of the Chang-e 5 spacecraft on its mission to the moon

This shows ‘water can be recharged on the moon’s surface, a new water reservoir on the moon’, Hui said.

Professor Sen Hu, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said the findings ‘indicate that the impact glasses on the surface of the moon and other airless bodies in the solar system are capable of storing solar wind-derived water and releasing it into space’.

The Telegraph quotes Prof Lewis Dartnell, an astronomer at the University of Westminster, as saying it could have a potentially big impact on future lunar missions. 

‘The subsurface reservoir is replenished by the ongoing process of solar wind hydrogen bonding to oxygen and the water created diffusing underground to be absorbed into glass beads,’ he said.

‘The presence of water in the lunar surface is important as it would be a crucial resrouce for supporting long-term human habitation of the moon. 

‘Water is needed for drinking, of course, but can also be split using electrolyiss to create oxygen to breathe in the habitats.’ 

Previous studies found water in glass beads formed by lunar volcanic activity, based on samples returned by the Apollo moonwalkers more than half a century ago. 

These, too, could provide water not only for use by future crews, but for rocket fuel. Nasa aims to put astronauts back on the lunar surface by the end of 2025. 

They will aim for the south pole where permanently shadowed craters are believed to be packed with frozen water.

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