The discovery of water in lunar soil samples, contained in “glass marbles”, is an important advance for hopes of building bases on the Moon.
Why is this important?There is water on the Moon, this is not news that dates from yesterday – but from the 1990s, thanks to the Lunar Prospector space probe in particular, which detected the presence of water ice there . Since then, other space missions, such as India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission and NASA’s LCROSS mission, have confirmed the presence of water on the Moon. But it was still unclear how it was stored on the satellite, especially in regions outside the lunar poles.
In the news : The potential presence of billions of tons of water contained in tiny “glass marbles” on the Moon, according to a study published in the journal Nature.
- These balls of less than a millimeter in diameter would have formed during the collision of asteroids with the lunar surface.
- When asteroids collide with the moon, they shoot out molten droplets. These then solidify and mix with the lunar dust.
- The discovery was made by Chinese scientists who analyzed lunar soil samples collected by the Chang’e-5 mission in 2020, the first to be returned to Earth since the 1970s.
- According to their theory, these glass marbles, formed in ancient times, can become impregnated with water when struck by solar winds, which carry hydrogen and oxygen from the sun’s atmosphere through the system. solar.
- These balls are replenished with water on the surface of the Moon “at the rate of a few years”, via the lunar water cycle, explain the researchers.
- In this way, more than 270 billion tons of water would be stored on the moon.
- “This work adds to the growing consensus that the moon is more water-rich than previously thought,” he said. The Guardian Ian Crawford, professor of planetary science and astrobiology at Birkbeck University in London.
Important : This water could be extracted and used by astronauts on future lunar missions, say researchers.
- “This water can be released by simply heating these glass beads,” said Hejiu Hui, one of the study’s co-authors and a researcher at Nanjing University.
- “There is evidence that when the temperature of this material exceeds 100°C, water begins to flow and can be harvested,” confirms Mahesh Anand, professor of science and planetary exploration at the Open University. “Thanks to this discovery, the potential for sustainable exploration of the moon is higher than it has ever been. »
- This is indeed one of the most important discoveries for space agencies that aim to build bases on the moon, since astronauts could have access to a source of water, but also hydrogen and oxygen.
- Unlike the frozen water that hides in craters at the lunar poles, this water should be much easier to extract by humans or robots working on the moon.
Concretely : Several missions aim to return to the Moon in the near future.
- NASA’s Artemis program aims to return astronauts to the moon by 2025 for the first time since 1972.
- After the Chang’e 5 mission, to which we owe this discovery concerning the lunar “glass marbles”, the mission Chang’e 6scheduled for 2025, will aim to collect samples from a region of the Moon’s south pole.
- Russia is not to be outdone: its Luna program also aims to send robots and astronauts to the Moon. In theory for 2023, but this deadline could be delayed following the withdrawal of the European Space Agency (ESA) after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Or even completely buried.
- For its part, ESA aims to create a “moon village” permanent.
- Without forgetting Blue Moon, the lunar exploration program of the space company Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos, which plans to transport cargo and equipment for manned missions.
There is more : According to Professor Sen Hu, co-lead author of the study at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, such balls could store and release water on other airless rocks in the solar system, and not only on the Moon.