Earth’s atmosphere could be one source of water on the moon, UAF study finds

Depiction of water/ice at the moon’s poles. (NASA)

University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists are studying water on the moon — its origins, where it’s located and how much may be there. The water could be valuable to development of a moon base.

UAF Geophysical Institute associate professor Gunther Kletetschka led a team that looked at one source of moon water, the moon’s impact with hydrogen and oxygen ions during its passages through the tail of earth’s magnetosphere.

Kletetschka said his group studied “how the water would get from the earth to the moon, using this periodic passage of the moon through this magnetic tail, and how much water would be able to be transferred.”

According to an article about moon water on the Planetary Society website, lunar missions have confirmed the presence of water, most prominently as ice in sun-shaded craters at the moon’s poles. To try to better locate and quantify the water, Kletetschka and his team used data from a NASA lunar orbiter to locate gravitational anomalies that indicate deep-water deposits.

“We have this gravity field technique which allows us to locate exactly where the water would go if it’s deposited in the polar regions of the moon, and we find that there was a distribution of this kind of a water indicator around impact craters,” Kletetschka said.

Researchers estimate that the moon’s poles could contain 840 cubic miles of water — about as much as Lake Huron, the Earth’s eighth largest lake.

Better understanding the moon’s water resource is important to NASA’s Artemis Project, which aims to establish a sustainable human presence at a base at the moon’s south pole. The moon’s ice and water could be sourced for drinking water and air and also used to create a fuel for space vehicles.

Kletetschka’s team’s research was published in the journal Scientific Reports in March.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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