When humans first visited the moon, they touched the dusty particles that cover its surface and brought back parched rocks from its gray-white landscape. The moon seemed a dry, inhospitable desert-unless you brought your own water and air, of course.
But in 2009, scientists discovered that our moon isn’t as barren as we once thought: it has water. As you hear about droughts, shifting ocean tides, and water conservation efforts on the news, you may wonder if we’ll ever need to look elsewhere for water sources. Read on to learn about lunar water and how it may affect you.
When We Discovered Lunar Water
Humans first walked on the moon in 1969, but we didn’t know for sure it had water until 40 years later. Rocks brought back from the moon contained trace amounts of water. But scientists suspected that the water was introduced during transit back to Earth rather than being part of the original sample.
In 2009, scientists declared conclusively that water exists on the lunar surface. This statement came after years of sending unmanned probes to study moon conditions. Several of these spacecraft detected bound hydrogen on the moon’s surface, with the highest concentrations near the poles. Scientists hypothesized that the hydrogen was in fact ice, permanently frozen in craters on the moon’s shadowy edges.
But we didn’t know for sure until a probe left the orbiting Chandrayaan-1 and struck the moon’s south pole. The crash into the lunar surface created a debris cloud. Scientists analyzed the light wavelengths of this debris cloud to discover that the moon in fact has water. A few months later, another probe struck the moon, created a similar debris cloud, and confirmed the results.
How Lunar Water Ended Up There
Once scientists knew the moon contained water, they began studying how it got there. Several theories gained momentum. Some researchers said it came from water-rich comets or meteorites that crashed into the moon. Others thought high-energy hydrogen from the sun, known as solar wind, reached the moon and reacted with oxygen in the soil to create water.
To solve the mystery, scientists turned to moon dust Apollo astronauts brought back to Earth. The microscopic particles of moon dust contained isotopes that support the solar wind theory. However, a small amount of the moon’s hydrogen may come from other space objects hitting the moon.
When We’ll Use Lunar Water
Currently, NASA has a few missions planned to study the moon’s water and how we can mine it. These missions are scheduled to take place as early as 2017, but they don’t aim to bring any water back to Earth during these earlier excursions.
Instead, these missions will study how astronauts can turn lunar water into a viable resource. Once we determine how to mine lunar water, astronauts will likely drink it or turn it into hydrogen for rocket fuel. Long-distance space travel becomes more feasible if astronauts don’t have to bring all the resources they’ll need during the journey from Earth.
So to answer this blog’s title question, no, most of us will probably never take a sip of lunar water. We should still use water carefully, but Earth isn’t likely to run out of this resource anytime soon. That means you have no excuse not to drink your daily intake of pure, clear water.
However, it’s interesting to think about how future scientists may put lunar water to use. If you’re curious about water even further away in our solar system, check out our blog about signs of water on Mars. And keep returning to our blog for more useful water info.