A new study claimed this week that there might be water inside the moon. Using satellite data, a team of researchers from Brown University studied lunar pyroclastic deposits, which are layers of rock that possibly formed from massive volcanic eruptions.

Ralph Milliken, the lead author of the new study, noted “glass beads” in ancient pyroclastic deposits could contain water trapped inside of them. The latest findings were published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Areas of the moon's south pole with possibly high deposits of frozen water colored blue. Image Credit: NASA
Areas of the moon’s south pole with possibly high deposits of frozen water colored blue. Image Credit: NASA

Magma associated with the explosive events that caused the formation of pyroclastic deposits is moved to the moon’s surface from its core, explained the authors of the study.

Brown University scientists used satellite data to estimate how much water there’s on the moon

The researchers carefully analyzed satellite data and said the volcanic deposits suggested the presence of water.

“The fact that nearly all of them (the volcanic deposits) exhibit signatures of water suggests… that the bulk interior of the moon is wet,” Milliken, who is also an associate professor in Brown’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, said in a news release.

Milliken told CNN the finding could be positive for future missions to the moon because they believe water could be extracted from the volcanic deposits. In fact, NASA recently suggested it may plan a trip to the moon soon, as agency officials finally admitted they currently don’t have the resources to send astronauts to Mars by the 2030s.

The researchers noted the volcanic glass beads don’t contain much water, only about a few hundred parts per million. However, Milliken added there’s a great deal of the volcanic material to work with. He told CNN that some of the volcanic deposits stretch for thousands of square kilometers and could be several kilometers deep.

“It’s more water than previously recognized,” said Milliken.

Volcanic glass bead samples from 1970s Apollo missions showed there’s water on the moon

In 2008, a study also published in the journal Nature, showed that samples of volcanic glass brought to Earth in the 1970s during the Apollo 15 and 17 missions contained trace amounts of water. Most scientists believed the moon was dry when those missions went to the moon until astronauts found volcanic glass beads with tiny crystalline formations that contained water.

Then, in 2009, NASA announced it had found water on the moon. NASA researchers said at the time that one ton of the lunar surface could yield 32 ounces of water.

Scientists suggested those crystals were likely created by solar winds that interacted with hydrogen at high altitudes. Milliken noted there are also small amounts of frozen water in both of moon’s poles.

However, while lunar samples led scientists to believe there was water on the moon, they couldn’t test the entirety of the lunar surface to be completely sure. So, geologists and scientists turned instead to satellite data to assess whether the moon had water or not.

The researchers looked at volcanic rocks in satellite images of the moon, searching for wavelengths coming from light reflected off of water molecules. Plus, they reanalyzed the volcanic glass beads from the Apollo missions to determine exactly how much water they contained. Then, they combined their findings and estimated how much water might be hidden inside the moon.

Volcanic crystal beads recovered by the Apollo 15 mission. By analyzing them, researchers believe water has been a part of the Moon since its early existence.  Credit: NASA
Volcanic crystal beads recovered by the Apollo 15 mission. By analyzing them, researchers believe water has been a part of the Moon since its early existence.
Credit: NASA

“Our work shows that nearly all of the large pyroclastic deposits also contain water, so this seems to be a common characteristic of magmas that come from the deep lunar interior,” Milliken told Space.com. “That is, most of the mantle of the Moon may be ‘wet.’”

The moon could be used as ‘stepping stone’ in the future

Sarah Noble, a program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., told CNN the new study –which was funded by the space agency- suggested water could lie in many areas of the lunar surface, and not just in “a couple of weird pockets.” She noted the findings imply that either the moon was able to retain significant amounts of water after the “giant impact,” or that the material adhered to the moon after the impact.

The giant impact theory claims the moon was born about 4.5 billion years ago after an object crashed into Earth. The moon was formed out of an ocean of magma, which is why scientists thought it was impossible that a moon that hot could have retained water for billions of years.

Milliken said the moon could serve humanity in the future. He suggested that if we want to send people to Mars, the moon could serve as a stepping stone for training astronauts or testing equipment. The moon could come in handy because space agencies wouldn’t have to take water to the moon, which would be cumbersome and expensive to carry there, said Milliken.

Source: CNN