Water has been confirmed on the surface of the Moon for the first time, NASA reports. The deposits, in the form of solid ice, have been detected near both the northern and southern poles of our planetary companion.
The Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft confirmed water ice in craters at the south pole of the Moon, as well as isolated patches near the northernmost regions. The Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument (M3) instrument discovered this ice is concentrated in areas where permanent shadows prevent sunlight from reaching, protecting the frozen surface from melting. Earlier findings suggested the presence of water ice at the poles, but those measurements could have been explained by areas of highly-reflective crust on the lunar surface.
“M3, aboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, launched in 2008 by the Indian Space Research Organization, was uniquely equipped to confirm the presence of solid ice on the Moon. It collected data that not only picked up the reflective properties we’d expect from ice, but was able to directly measure the distinctive way its molecules absorb infrared light, so it can differentiate between liquid water or vapor and solid ice,” NASA stated in a press release announcing the findings.
The Indian Space Research Organization launched the Chandrayaan program in order to map the lunar surface, and test the nation’s technological capabilities. The vehicle launched an impact probe into the south pole of the Moon, prior to losing contact with Earth a year after launch. This new discovery was made while examining data sent back by the observatory.
Although water is an essential component to life as we understand it, this does not significantly increase the chances of finding native life on the Moon. However, these deposits may make it easier for future space travelers to voyage to the Moon and beyond.
Any trip into space with humans aboard requires a great deal of water, for drinking, washing, and routine maintenance. However, lifting off of the Earth with water already onboard adds significant weight to the spacecraft, increasing costs in fuel and finances. If space travelers are able to obtain water from the lunar surface, this could make journeys to the Moon, Mars, and other destinations more feasible.