Tiny moon shadows may harbor hidden stores of ice

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Hidden pockets of water could be much more common on the surface of the moon than scientists once suspected, according to new research.
Hidden pockets of water could be much more common on the surface of the moon than scientists once suspected, according to new research led by the University of Colorado Boulder. In some cases, these tiny patches of ice might exist in permanent shadows no bigger than a penny.

"If you can imagine standing on the surface of the moon near one of its poles, you would see shadows all over the place," said Paul Hayne, assistant professor in the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics at CU Boulder. "Many of those tiny shadows could be full of ice."

In a study published today in the journal Nature Astronomy, Hayne and his colleagues explored phenomena on the moon called "cold traps" -- shadowy regions of the surface that exist in a state of eternal darkness.

Many have gone without a single ray of sunlight for potentially billions of years. And these nooks and crannies may be a lot more numerous than previous data suggest. Drawing on detailed data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the researchers estimate that the moon could harbor roughly 15,000 square miles of permanent shadows in various shapes and sizes -- reservoirs that, according to theory, might also be capable of preserving water via ice.

Future lunar residents, in other words, may be in luck.

"If we're right, water is going to be more accessible for drinking water, for rocket fuel, everything that NASA needs water for," said Hayne, also of the…
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