NASA has announced that water is present on a sunlit surface of the moon for the first time

Hidden pockets of water on the moon could be much more common than scientists previously thought, and the discovery could have potential implications for future lunar missions.

Handout image issued by NASA showing the Moon's Clavius Crater, with an illustration depicting water trapped in the lunar soil there
Handout image issued by NASA showing the Moon's Clavius Crater, with an illustration depicting water trapped in the lunar soil there

Researchers suggest that in some cases tiny patches of ice might exist in permanent shadows no bigger than a penny.

They explored phenomena on the moon called cold traps, which are shadowy regions of the surface that exist in a state of eternal darkness.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It is thought that many have gone without a single ray of sunlight for potentially billions of years.

Now scientists say there may be a lot more of these nooks and crannies than previous data suggests.

Paul Hayne, assistant professor in the laboratory of atmospheric and space physics at University of Colorado Boulder, said: “If you can imagine standing on the surface of the moon near one of its poles, you would see shadows all over the place.

“Many of those tiny shadows could be full of ice.”

Drawing on detailed data from Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the researchers estimate the moon could harbour roughly 15,000 square miles of permanent shadows in various shapes and sizes.

According to scientists, these might be reservoirs capable of preserving water via ice.

Prof Hayne added: “If we’re right, water is going to be more accessible for drinking water, for rocket fuel, everything that Nasa needs water for.”

Previous research has reported signs of hydration on the lunar surface, particularly around the south pole.

However, these detections are based on a spectral signature, at three micrometres, that cannot discriminate between water and hydroxyl (oxygen bonded to hydrogen) bound in minerals.

In one of two papers published in Nature Astronomy, Casey Honniball, from the University of Hawaii, and colleagues analysed data from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) airborne telescope that observed the moon at six micrometres.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.