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Advanced research techniques reveal presence of water beneath Moon's surface

Friday, September 06, 2013 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: Moon''s surfacewaterresearch

Fascinating new research published in the journal Nature Geoscience has once again confirmed the existence of water not only on but also inside the Moon. Funded by NASA, this fresh analysis of lunar water, which used advanced laboratory techniques to take a much closer look at lunar sample data collected over the years, verifies that water does indeed exist beneath the Moon's surface and has probably been there since the Moon was formed.

Entitled "Remote detection of magmatic water in Bullialdus Crater on the Moon," the new paper provides breakthrough insight into the Moon's composition, including the presence of water that appears to be emanating from its surface magmatically, or as a result of magma pushing towards the surface. Specifically, remote mapping data collected from the moon's Bullialdus crater has revealed previously unknown details about pockets of water lurking beneath the Moon's surface.

Back in 2009, the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3), which was sent out from the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, performed a full imaging analysis of the Bullialdus crater. In the years that followed, advancements in laboratory techniques made it possible to more fully understand and interpret this imaging data, which has led to some amazing discoveries.

"For many years, researchers believed that the rocks from the Moon were 'bone dry,' and that any water detected in the Apollo samples had to be contamination from earth," says Rachel Klima, a planetary geologist at the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Applied Physics Laboratory and lead author of the new paper. "About five years ago, new laboratory techniques used to investigate lunar samples revealed that the interior of the Moon is not as dry as we previously thought."

Hidden water sources in Moon's craters

It was already understood, thanks to data previously collected from orbital spacecraft, that solar wind hitting the moon's surface is capable of producing a thin layer of surface water in certain areas, which helps explain the small amounts observed in previous analyses. But the situation is different in the Bullialdus crater, the latitudinal presence of which is unfavorable to solar winds -- this of course points to a much different explanation as to the surface water's source.

"The rocks in the central peak of the crater are of a type called norite that usually crystallizes when magma ascends but gets trapped underground instead of erupting at the surface as lava," explains Klima. "Bullialdus crater is not the only location where this rock type is found, but the exposure of these rocks combined with a generally low regional water abundance enabled us to quantify the amount of internal water in these rocks."

In other words, the team discovered that water exists in significant quantities beneath this particular crater, and some of it gets pushed up to the surface from time to time as a result of magmatics. This was further demonstrated when scientists identified the presence of trace mineral compounds like hydroxyl on the crater's surface, which were found in quantities much higher than in other areas, further suggesting that the phenomenon is not a result of solar winds.

"I think it would be very tough to have this water be anywhere other than original to the material that formed the moon," concludes Klima, as quoted by Discovery News. "I don't think this was a cometary water that was somehow mixed and excavated back out, or solar wind water. I think this had to be water that was initially there when the materials forming the moon accreted, and what we found supports that idea."

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