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Meteorites Slamming Into Moon Can Expose Water Hidden Underground

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A new study revealed the moon may be losing a lot of water every time meteorites strike. These findings can impact lunar explorations and desire for human colonization in the future. It also suggests there may be more water than previously thought.  ( NASA Goddard | YouTube )

A new study published in Nature Geoscience confirmed the long-held belief about the effects of meteor streams on the moon: it ends up releasing water vapor.

NASA announced on Monday, April 15, what it considers a big piece of the puzzle concerning the effects of a meteor strike on airless bodies such as the moon.

"When a stream of meteoroids rains down on the lunar surface, the liberated water will enter the exosphere and spread through it. About two-thirds of that vapor escapes into space, but about one-third lands back on the surface of the Moon," said the press release.

Previous Assumption Finally Confirmed

The data provided by the many lunar missions allowed scientists to hypothesize that the moon doesn't only have water, but it also has an active water cycle.

Many of these water events occurred in line with meteor showers. For example, they noticed a spike of water signals during the Geminid meteor showers in December 2013.

To confirm this, a team led by Mehdi Benna, planetary scientist, studied the data provided by the neutral mass spectrometer of the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE).

The mission orbited the moon from 2013 to 2014 and obtained information on the faint gases that surround the celestial object called the exosphere.

They identified 33 of these water plumes, four of which are new ones.

What Does This Mean About The Moon?

The study is significant because humans are setting their sights on building a colony there. To be sustainable, however, it needs to have the essential elements for human survival such as water.

The analyses of these water vapors reveal that the top layer of the moon is bone dry, but water may already be present at least 3 inches from the surface. Much of the water may be adhering to the regolith, or a combination of soil and rock.

These water events may also explain the presence of ice in cold traps within the deep parts of the craters. Much of the water detected by scientists was in these areas where temperatures are so frigid they are likely to keep these vapors stable for billions of years.

Not Wet Enough

It doesn't mean, however, that the moon is abundant with water. The study also showed it is still drier than Earth.

"From the measurements of water in the exosphere, the researchers calculated that the hydrated layer has a water concentration of about 200 to 500 parts per million, or about 0.02 to 0.05 percent by weight. This concentration is much drier than the driest terrestrial soil, and is consistent with earlier studies," said NASA.

To collect 16 ounces of water, which is about a bottle, it needs to work with a metric ton of regolith. The moon's release of water vapor into space doesn't help in the conservation.

If there's any consolation, NASA believes these activities may have been going on for a long time. Most of all, trace amounts of it are spread across the surface.

Learn more about this discovery from this video from NASA Goddard:

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