When NASA astronauts landed on the moon for the first time in 1969, they discovered a world dried up, drained, and devoid of salvific water. The Apollo astronauts, who only stayed a few days, brought a lot of water for their own needs. This finding was therefore disappointing for the fuzzy plans of the future lunar outposts, but not immediately worrying.
Decades later, humans have learned that the only economical way to explore the space in the long run is to use the resources found. And luckily we also discovered that the moon, far from being a rock without water, was simply hiding water under its surface. Several missions have revealed this precious substance by digging (reading: exploding) the superficial layers of the Moon or by using scanning instruments to find the signatures of hydrogen and oxygen revelators.
But a new research, published on April 15 in Nature Geoscience, reveals that this water is lost in space each time the Moon is hit by a meteor. This means that the water is not sitting very far from the surface. The authors of this latest study, led by Mehdi Benna of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, used data from NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), orbiting the Moon from October 2013 to April 2014.
Rise of water
They discovered that water gushed into the thin lunar atmosphere just as the moon was trapped by the meteor shower. The idea that the Moon releases water when objects reach it is something humans have known for the first time that an Indian spacecraft named Chandrayaan-1 sent a probe to the surface of the moon, raising a lot of dust and a surprising amount of water.
The 33 aquatic episodes that scientists spied on via LADEE provide more detail, especially since they have spread over wide bands of the lunar surface. Based on the size of the meteor shower and the amount of water released, they were able to calculate that the first 3 cm of the moon's floor is dry, mainly after being baked during the hot lunar days. But under this thin layer, the moon is covered with water quite uniformly.
This does not mean that the Moon is soggy beneath the surface. The Moon remains a dry environment. Much of the water excavated during these meteor showers is lost in space, which means that the Moon is gradually losing the water it has. But the fact that our 4.5 billion year old moon still has water to lose is a good sign for those eagerly awaiting lunar colonies – a goal that NASA is considering in close proximity to come up.
NASA explains the discovery of LADEE in the video below.