Geologists Have Encouraging News For Folks Hoping to Mine the Moon

By Rae Paoletta on at

Most people (incorrectly) assume the moon is barren and boring. Sure, our satellite might be a little clingy, but it also has moonquakes, orange soil, and could be hiding abundant water resources. New research from satellite data offers more evidence that the Moon does indeed have water trapped in its mantle, which could be huge for companies looking to mine the Moon for resources. Still no word about where the cheese is, though.

In a study published today in Nature Geoscience, researchers posit they’ve detected water within volcanic deposits spread across the lunar surface. The team used measurements of lunar samples from Apollo missions, in addition to orbital spectrometer aboard India’s lost (and found) Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter, to investigate any signatures of water. Orbital spectrometers can measure how much light is reflected off an object’s surface and help inform scientists about its composition.

The researchers detected evidence of water across many volcanic deposits, including the sites near Apollo 15 and 17 landings. In 2008, scientists detected trace amounts of water in glass beads brought back from these two Apollo sites—but this new research suggests water could be more abundant than previously imagined, and not just a thing of the past. The volcanic deposits are quite large, hinting that the Moon’s interior could hold a significant amount of water.

Which begs the question of how it all got there in the first place.

“The Moon is generally believed to have formed by a giant impact with Earth, but this is a high energy and high temperature process in which water should not have survived,” lead author Ralph E. Milliken, an associate professor in the department of earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Brown University, told Gizmodo. “So, it either did somehow survive this process, or it was delivered to the Moon after the impact event but before the Moon cooled and solidified. In that case of the latter, the water could have been delivered by water-rich asteroids and comets, and this could also have implications for how water was delivered to Earth.”

Image: NASA

Private companies like Moon Express have long indicated their intent to mine the Moon for iron ore, precious metals, and water. Turning Moon water into rocket fuel could become an extremely lucrative industry—if there’s water to extract, of course.

“The amount of water in a given glass bead is not very much, but the size of some of the pyroclastic deposits is huge, so you have a lot of material to work with and process,” Milliken said. “These deposits have been previously recognised as potential resources because the volcanic glass also contains titanium and iron, and now with the observed presence of water we can add another potential resource to the list. The water that is trapped in the glass wouldn’t be a renewable resource, but again, you have a lot of this material to work with.”

Milliken said that he and the paper’s co-author, University of Hawaii researcher Shuai Li, will be conducting more studies to understand where water could be hiding under the Moon’s surface. It may not be cheese, but it’s a start. [Nature Geoscience]


More Space Posts: