NASA discovers that meteoroids are depleting the moon’s water supply

Artist’s concept of the LADEE spacecraft (left) detecting water vapor from meteoroid impacts on the Moon (right)NASA/Goddard/Conceptual Image Lab

  • A team of researchers from NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory have discovered that water is released from the moon when it gets struck by meteoroids.
  • They were able to track the phenomenon using observations made by NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE).
  • This is a stepping stone in understanding the history of water on the moon and how it can be used to help human space exploration missions.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists have discovered that water is released from the moon as meteoroids strike the surface.

Scientists had long speculated that meteorite impacts could have such an impact, but this is the first time that they’ve actually observed the phenomenon — but it also shows that meteoroid impacts release water faster than the moon can replace it.

Even so, these findings go a long way in helping the scientific community understand the history of lunar water and its continued evolution as well as help them understand how water on the moon can be a potential resource for future exploration endeavours — on the moon and in deep space.

The water being lost is likely ancient, either dating back to the formation of the Moon or deposited early in its history.

Mehdi Benna of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and lead author of the study, published in Nature Geosciences

Essentially, when debris from a comet in the form of a meteoroid hits the moon, it vaporises on impact. That impact, in turn, creates a shock wave in the lunar soil. If an impact is big enough, the shockwave will be large enough to breach through the soil’s top layer that’s mostly dry and release the water molecules from underneath.

Infographic showing the lunar water cycle based on the new observations from the Neutral Mass Spectrometer on board the LADEE spacecraft

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) was able to track these water molecules as they entered the lunar atmosphere. Using those observations, researchers from NASA and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory discovered four new meteoroid streams.

We traced most of these events to known meteoroid streams, but the really surprising part is that we also found evidence of four meteoroid streams that were previously undiscovered.

Mehdi Benna of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and lead author of the study, published in Nature Geosciences

One could speculate that the water detected could be a result of the meteoroids’ water mass rather than the moon. But, the team was able to determine that this cannot be the case since the water being released is in excess of the water mass detected in the meteoroids.

We know that some of the water must be coming from the Moon, because the mass of water being released is greater than the water mass within the meteoroids coming in.

Dana Hurley of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the second author of the paper

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was the first to discover water on the moon in 2008 when its spacecraft, Chandrayaan-1, used the Moon Impact Probe (MIP) on the Shackleton Crater located at the moon’s south pole. Even then, it was the subsurface debris that was analysed to determine the presence of water.


See also:
Evidence of water on moon’s surface, but terms and conditions apply

NASA has found evidence that an ice-covered moon of Saturn could sustain alien life

China releases detailed 360-degree photo from the first mission to land on the far side of the moon
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