NASA reports traces of liquid water and widespread ice on the Moon, raising hopes for exploration and habitation

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There really is water on the Moon — and it might be much more widespread than previously suspected.
Key points: Astronomers have detected water molecules in sunlit areas of the Moon for the first time

Astronomers have detected water molecules in sunlit areas of the Moon for the first time Modelling of the Moon's surface in polar regions also indicates areas that can support water ice are more abundant than previously thought

Modelling of the Moon's surface in polar regions also indicates areas that can support water ice are more abundant than previously thought The separate findings are a boost to plans to return humans to the Moon and mine water for rocket fuel

The findings of two separate studies, published today in the journal Nature Astronomy, are a major boost for plans to send humans back to the Moon.

In the first study, a team of scientists led by Casey Honniball of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center discovered the signature of liquid water that's either trapped in glass or between grains of sand on the Moon's surface.

"For the first time we have unambiguously detected molecular water on the sunlit Moon," Dr Honniball said.

Scientists have long suspected that large amounts of frozen water lurk in deep, polar craters that never see the Sun.

But Dr Honniball and colleagues detected liquid water molecules in a pockmarked, sunlit region near the Moon's south pole.

"Prior to this it was believed water could not survive on the sunlit Moon," she said.

"Our detection shows that water may be more widespread on the surface of the Moon than previously thought and not constrained to only the poles."

The water was found in the Clavius Crater in rugged highlands near the South Pole. ( NASA/ABC )

The hunt for water

The two new papers are the high point in a decade of increasingly tantalising hints about water on the Moon.

Spacecraft like NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter detected hydrogen — one of water's molecular components — in permanently shady areas at the north and south pole.

The case strengthened when data from India's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft…
Genelle Weule
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