(Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)
A new study suggests that volcanoes that erupted on the moon billions of years ago may have created a layer of ice beneath the lunar surface.
The lava that these active volcanoes erupted became seas, dark regions covering the lunar lowlands. But these volcanoes also spewed water vapor. The researchers reported in a new study that when it touches the cold moon, the water vapor will freeze, forming a layer of ice several meters below the lunar surface.
“We’re imagining it as frost on the moon that has built up over time,” study lead author Andrew Wilcosky, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder, said in a statement.
On the subject: Water on the Moon is more common than we thought, studies show
In the study, scientists modeled the surface of the moon as it would have looked and behaved 2 to 4 billion years ago, with periodic volcanic eruptions on a still active world. They assumed that the volcano erupted on average every 22,000 years.
Even billions of years ago there was no atmosphere on the Moon. But these volcanic eruptions released significant amounts of other gases, including water vapor. These gases would be enough to spin the entire moon and cover it with a small temporary atmosphere.
However, these atmospheres would not be particularly durable; they would dissipate into space in just a thousand years or so. But the researchers found that even this short amount of time would be enough for most of the water vapor to turn into ice and settle again, especially near the poles.
This discovery could be used for future human lunar missions. The search for liquid water on the Moon is becoming increasingly important as astronauts and engineers start thinking about how to live sustainably on the Moon without having to bring in vital resources like water from Earth.
Although previous studies have confirmed the presence of water ice on the Moon, scientists are still working to understand its location, geographic distribution, the amount of mixed lunar dust, and other factors that will affect the possibility of using ice as a resource.
If the researchers’ work, published May 3 in The Planetary Science Journal, is confirmed, it could point to a key treasure lying below the poles.
Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.