There’s a lot more than just water on the Moon’s South Pole — Here’s why

There’s a lot more than just water on the Moon’s South Pole — Here’s why
A high-resolution free-air gravity map based on data returned from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory mission, overlaid on terrain based on NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter altimeter and camera dataNASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

  • The craters on the Moon's South Pole may contain more than just water.
  • NASA scientists have found that incoming meteors and solar winds could create reactions that normally occur at much warmer temperatures.
  • Such events are also drive water and soil particles out of the craters on to other areas of the lunar surface.
As countries race to build on the discovery of water near the Moon's South Pole, there could be a lot more than just water stored in these bitterly cold, shadowy, lunar craters.

A study in Nature Geoscience recently discovered that the craters on the Moon and the craters on Mercury are spatially similar making it likely that there's millions of tons of ice to be found on the Moon — spelling good news for India's Chandrayaan 2 mission that's currently on its way to the Moon's South Pole.

But, NASA scientists have found that there could be a lot more than just water in these craters. Yes, the craters on the Moon's South pole are very cold and can trap water but they're also exposed to the space environment that brings meteor impacts and radiation from the Sun.

Such event events could potentially deplete the amount of water that's present on the lunar surface. The also drive reactions that would normal occur in warmer temperatures, according to William M. Ferrel — a plasma physicist with NASA who led the lunar frost research.

"We can't think of these craters as icy dead spots," he noted.

This could be good news

When solar winds and incoming meteors displace water from the Moon, particles can travel as far as 30 kilometers from the impact sight in a matter of seconds.

There’s a lot more than just water on the Moon’s South Pole — Here’s why
Streams of meteoroids striking the Moon's surfaceNASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

"So every time you have one of these impacts, a very thin layer of ice grains is spread across the surface, exposed to the heat of the Sun and the space environment, and eventually sublimated or lost to other environmental processes," explains Dana Hurley, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

At the same time, it's possible that water is also being added to the Moon with icy comets crashing into it and solar winds bringing in water particles.

Either way, scientists assume that the uppermost surface of the Moon has been continuously getting reworked over the past thousand years.

So, when astronauts do finally get step onto the Moon again, they may not have to travel too far to water rich soil and it might not be restricted to the shadowy craters. It's possible that it could be found in sunnier regions as well, according to Ferrel's team.

"We suspected there was water at the poles and learned for sure from LCROSS, but we now have evidence that there's water at mid latitudes," Farrell said. "We also have evidence that there's water coming from micrometeoroid impacts, and we have measurements of frost. But the question is, how are all these water sources related?"

See also:
With the Chandrayaan 2 launch, India's historic Moon mission has taken off

India's Chandrayaan 2 takes the lead ahead of America, Russia, and China as the first of many missions to the Moon's South Pole

India’s second mission to the moon will use these 14 high-tech instruments to look for water