‘The exact origin of water in the lunar interior is still a big question’

The interior of the moon may contain a substantial amount of liquid water, scientists announced Monday.

Researchers from Brown University and the University of Hawaii were surprised to find evidence of large amounts of water trapped in deposits left by violent volcanic explosions.

The deposits amount mostly to groupings of glass beads formed by the extreme heat. Water appears to have collected inside the beads.

For most of modern astronomy, scientists assumed the moon was inert and devoid of most compounds necessary for life, such as water. That thinking began to change in 2008 when samples of volcanic glass beads collected by the Apollo 15 and 17 missions were found to have trace amounts of water.

Additional analysis of satellite /images lead scientists to now believe there is a large amount of water under the moon’s surface. The research was funded by NASA and published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“The key question is whether those Apollo samples represent the bulk conditions of the lunar interior or instead represent unusual or perhaps anomalous water-rich regions within an otherwise 'dry' mantle [geological layer between the surface and core]," lead author Ralph Milliken of Brown said in a statement.

By looking at orbital data and precisely measuring how light reflected off the moon’s varying surfaces, the researchers found many volcanic deposits included evidence of water down below.

"The distribution of these water-rich deposits is the key thing," Milliken added. "They're spread across the surface, which tells us that the water found in the Apollo samples isn't a one-off.

If water exists on the moon, scientists will likely have to rethink theories regarding the moon’s formation.

Most astronomers believe the moon formed after a massive planet-sized asteroid collided with Earth and sheared off a giant piece of rock. That collision would likely be so hot all that all hydrogen, the element necessary for water, could not have survived.

“The growing evidence for water inside the Moon suggest that water did somehow survive, or that it was brought in shortly after the impact by asteroids or comets before the Moon had completely solidified," co-author Shuai Li said. "The exact origin of water in the lunar interior is still a big question."

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