Scientists say they have definitive evidence for water-ice on the surface of the Moon.
The details of the work have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The result comes from Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument aboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, which explored the Moon between 2008 and 2009.
The scientists found that the distribution of the ice deposits is patchy. At the lunar south pole, most of the ice is concentrated in craters. At the north pole, the water-ice is both more sparse and more widely spread.
The M3 instrument not only picked up the reflective properties one would expect from ice but was able to directly measure the distinctive way its molecules absorb infrared light. This meant that it could differentiate between liquid water and vapor and solid ice.
If there’s enough ice sitting at the surface – within the top few millimeters – the water might be accessible as a resource for future human missions to the Moon.
It could potentially be turned into drinking water for the occupants of a lunar base, or “split” into hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel. The split oxygen could also be used by astronauts for breathing.
Surface water ice has also been found on other Solar System bodies, such as at the north pole of the planet Mercury and on the dwarf planet Ceres.