The moon may harbor a lot more water and ice than previously suspected, according to a recent study.
Researchers from UCLA, who recently published a paper in Nature Geoscience, say water-ice is locked deep within the lunar surface, and may even be large enough to support future human settlements.
The theory may account for a long-observed discrepancy between the moon and planets with similar surface conditions, like Mercury.
While Mercury contains large deposits of glacier-like ice on its polar regions, the moon, which bears strikingly similar surface conditions appears to have none — or at least none superficial enough to be observed.
‘The simple answer is that the moon has lots of ice — it’s just buried below the surface,’ said David Paige, a UCLA professor of planetary science and a co-author of the study.
Both the moon and Mercury have spin on axes that are small compared to the Earth, meaning there are regions of both bodies that never see the sun. As a result, those surfaces are some of the coldest in our solar system.
It’s for this reason that scientists say ice is likely to survive on the planet for billions of years.
However, research has turned up one glaring discrepancy.
Radar examinations of Mercury carried out two decades ago show the planet contains thick deposits of ice some of which were 50 meters wide while similar observations of the lunar surface show only shallow reservoirs.
Scientists say the key to resolving that difference could be in studying the depth of the moon’s impact craters.
Researchers say that on the moon’s south pole, where ice has been previously detected, the impact craters were measured to be 10 percent more shallow than those observed elsewhere.
That difference in depth isn’t just coincidence, they posit, it’s due to a collection of hardened ice that rests beneath the surface.
Researchers say the lunar ice, unlike the more pristine iteration found on Mercury, is likely layered with the moon’s regolith — a lunar ‘soil’ made of hardened rock and other materials — and is much more dense as a result.
If true, researchers findings could be significant for several reasons, not the least of which regard the prospects of establishing colonies and industrial operations on the moon’s surface.
NASA has accelerated its calls to return to the moon via a much-anticipated mission dubbed Artemis.
That mission will entail 37 separate launches over a decade and culminate in the construction of a moon base by 2028, according to documents leaked in May.
From that base, scientists say humans would have unprecedented access to a number of precious resources embedded into the lunar landscape.
Those include metals like platinum, as well as others like silicon — used in making computer chips — and titanium and aluminum which are used for constructing buildings, making joint replacements, and more.