The moon may hold the answer to water shortages
A group of scientists is looking for new water resources on the moon
For many South Africans, water scarcity as an obsession is relatively new.
For ever so long, those of us with access have flushed our toilets with potable water.
We’ve enjoyed the warm water raining down on our skin while we sing, shampoo and condition in the shower for longer than necessary.
We have soaked in the bath and refreshed our pools, sprinkled the lawns and hosepiped the cars.
But water security is increasingly a global issue, with 11 massive cities now flagged as being in danger of running out.
Recently, a group of scientists has done what we as a species do best, especially when we’re rapidly using up what nature gives us: look for new resources.
And this time, it’s the moon.
We’re still a long way off from harvesting lunar water, but what’s happened so far is that two lunar missions recently found evidence that the moon’s water is “widely distributed” across its surface, and is not limited to one type of terrain.According to a statement released by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, “the findings could help researchers understand the origin of the moon’s water and how easy it would be to use as a resource”.
If the moon has “enough water”, and if it’s “reasonably convenient to access”, future explorers might be able to “use it as drinking water” or to “convert it into hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel or oxygen to breathe”.
Joshua Bandfield, a senior research scientist with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and lead author of the study (published in Nature Geoscience) said: “The presence of water doesn’t appear to depend on the composition of the surface, and the water sticks around.”
This is a break from earlier research which suggested the moon’s water molecules “hopped” across its surface and disappeared into cold traps.
According to the Nasa statement, “a cold trap is a region that’s so cold, the water vapour and other volatiles which come into contact with the surface will remain stable for an extended period of time, perhaps up to several billion years”.
The new findings pose as many questions as they answer.“Some of these scientific problems are very, very difficult, and it’s only by drawing on multiple resources from different missions that we are able to hone in on an answer,” said Nasa scientist John Keller.
This recent research is a milestone in a relatively new area of research: up until only 10 years ago, it was believed that the moon was completely dry.
Then, according to National Geographic, glass beads from the Apollo missions were examined by researchers who figured out that there was in fact some water there.
This prompted a “cascade” of new research, most notably the 2010 finding that moon rocks contained a mineral called apatite which, in turn, contained traces of water.
Back then, geologist Francis McCubbin – of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC - was quoted in National Geographic as saying that “all of the water in the moon’s interior could create a one-yard deep ocean that could cover its entire surface.”
The hunt – and hope – continues.