Breakdown: Volcanoes on the moon? Why scientists think this could benefit future astronauts
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - We think of the moon today as a dry, dusty, rocky world.
However, in the darkest and coldest parts of its polar regions, a team of scientists has directly observed definitive evidence of water ice on the Moon’s surface.
In May 2022, scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) said they’ve identified ice, found mostly in permanently-shadowed craters near its poles.
More interestinly, it is believed to have been created by ancient volcanoes.
The planetary scientist explained that from 2 to 4 billion years ago, the moon was a chaotic place. Tens of thousands of volcanoes erupted across its surface during this period, generating huge rivers and lakes of lava, not unlike the features you might see in Hawaii today—only much more immense.
Along with lava, these ancient moon volcanoes likely also ejected towering clouds made up of mostly carbon monoxide and water vapor, which then settled onto the surface—forming stores of ice that may still be hiding in lunar craters.
According to the group’s estimates, roughly 41% of the water from volcanoes may have condensed onto the moon as ice. The group calculated that about 18 quadrillion pounds of volcanic water could have condensed as ice during that period. That’s more water than currently sits in Lake Michigan.
If any humans had been alive at the time, they may even have seen a sliver of that frost near the border between day and night on the moon’s surface.
Future astronauts might use these thick sheets of subsurface ice as a water source.
“It’s a potential bounty for future moon explorers who will need water to drink and process into rocket fuel,” said study co-author Paul Hayne.
Those space ice cubes, however, won’t necessarily be easy to find. Most of that ice has likely accumulated near the moon’s poles and may be buried under several feet of lunar dust, or regolith.
“We really need to drill down and look for it,” said Andrew Wilcoski, lead author of the new study and a graduate student in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences (APS) and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at CU Boulder.
The researchers published their peer-reviewed results in The Planetary Science Journal on May 3, 2022.
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