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NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Spots Water Molecules Around The Moon

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Scientists observed water molecules moving around the dayside of the moon using an instrument onboard the NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. This new research can help further shed light on the accessibility of water in the moon.

A new study published in the Geophysical Research Letters showed that scientists spotted water molecules scattering and sparsely attached to some grains at the top of the lunar surface.

Tracking The Presence Of Lunar Water

A team of scientists from the Southwest Research Institute utilized the Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) onboard NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to make the observations based on the documentation of lunar hydration and lunar water cycle in the course of an entire day.

SwRI's Dr. Kurt Retherford, the principal investigator of the LRO LAMP instrument said they converted the LAMP's light collection mode to measure reflected signals on the lunar dayside with more precision to accurately track the presence and quantity of water.

This research can help scientists understand how water is bound to surface materials on the moon, and also reveals the amount of energy needed to remove water molecules from lunar materials.

Observing The Lunar Hydration Cycle

Lunar hydration is not easy to measure because of the complex light reflection it gives off the lunar surface.

In the visual representation presented by the team led led by senior scientist Amanda Hendrix of the Planetary Science Institute, it showed that rough, irregularly shaped grains on the surface "heat up over the course of a day, the molecules detach from the regolith and hop across the surface until they find another location cold enough to stick."

Based on the observations stated in the paper titled "Diurnally-migrating Lunar Water: Evidence from Ultraviolet Data," the water molecules are tightly bound to the grains until surface temperatures reach their peak at mid-day. Upon reaching that point, the molecules thermally desorb or release into the surface and bounces to a nearby location that is cold enough for the molecule to become stable.

"More work is needed to fully account for the complexities of the lunar surface, but the present results show that work is definitely worth doing!" according to SwRI's Dr. Michael Poston, a research scientist on the LAMP team.

Poston has researched extensively on the water and lunar samples collected by the Apollo missions.

Benefit For Future Missions

"This is an important new result about lunar water, a hot topic as our nation's space program returns to a focus on lunar exploration," Dr. Kurt Retherford said. The presence of water in the moon has been the subject of many research and observations.

It is believed that the moon contains water and other valuable resources that can be extracted and converted into many potential uses. If lunar water can be converted into fuel and hydrogen for rockets, oxygen for breathing, and even into drinking water, future lunar missions and space explorations will become more affordable.

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