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Moon may hold vast reserves of water, researchers say

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 17th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A new study says that the top layer of the moon's surface may hold far more water than previously thought. Scientists over the weekend say they have found water molecules in samples of lunar soil. They say that this unusual signature points to the Sun as the indirect source.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The moon water was most likely formed on the surface by the constant stream of charged particles ejected from the Sun. the study says. The finding "represents an unanticipated, abundant reservoir" of water on the moon, according to researchers from three U.S. universities. The report was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

"That means you've got a lot of water stuck around in this glass that we never even thought too much about before," Dr. Lawrence Taylor, a University of Tennessee geochemist says. Taylor advised the Apollo astronauts gathering lunar samples as well as served as a member of the research team.

The sun's solar winds create water through chemical reactions, University of Michigan's Youxue Zhang and colleagues at the University of Tennessee, and California Institute of Technology, say. Solar winds, which batter the solar system endlessly and is responsible for the auroras seen on planetary poles, is rich in hydrogen ions. These ions may combine with oxygen molecules on the moon's surface, creating water.

Researchers announced the discovery after using infrared and mass spectrometry to analyze lunar samples from Apollo. The team found large amounts of hydroxyl inside agglutinate glass, which is a bonded hydrogen and oxygen atom. The chief question, how the solar hydrogen combines with oxygen in the regolith grains to make the molecules, remains unclear.

Astronomers since time immemorial have considered the moon a dry, barren wasteland that could present opportunities for mining - but not for those in search of water. When NASA discovered water crystals in a deep crater near the Moon's southern pole in 2009, evidence has suggested that the Moon was at one time full of water, and may still have frozen water at depth.

The current study doesn't suggest a large amount of readily available water. It may be possible to mine water from the soil or to break up the molecules into their constituent oxygen and hydrogen atoms to create rocket fuel-potential requirements for a lunar base.

"With the cost of $25,000 for taking one pint [half a liter] of water to the moon, it is essential that we develop processes of producing water from the materials on the moon," Taylor says.

Astronomers have spent the last several years searching for water on neighboring planets. NASA's Mars Curiosity rover is currently preparing to search the surface of the Red Planet for signs of water. Recent findings suggest Mars once played host to large rivers and oceans.

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