June 15, 2010 / 11:16 AM / 10 years ago

There's more water on the moon than anyone thought

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - There is far more water on the moon than just about anyone thought and it is likely widespread deep under its surface, according to a report released on Monday.

A jet flies past the moon over the city of Aarau, Switzerland, April 24, 2010. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Recent moon missions have shown frozen water in shadowed craters on the moon’s surface, and ice under the gray dust. It could have been carried there by bits of comets as asteroids hitting the surface, however.

But a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows there is much more water on the moon than that — findings important for future moon missions.

“Water may be ubiquitous within the lunar interior,” the researchers concluded in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“For over 40 years we thought the moon was dry,” said Francis McCubbin of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, who led the study.

“We found that the minimum water content ranged from 64 parts per billion to 5 parts per million — at least two orders of magnitude greater than previous results.”

The water is not immediately accessible -- it is incorporated in the rocky interior of the moon, according to the report, published here

Most scientists now believe the moon was formed when a Mars-sized object hit the Earth 4.5 billion years ago, knocking off material that compacted to form the moon.

Magma was formed during this process and some water molecules would have been preserved as the magma cooled and crystallized.

The researchers looked at samples collected 40 years ago during Apollo moon missions. The kinds of rocks that will be more common in the interior carry chemical evidence of hydrogen and oxygen compounds that point to water,

“The concentrations are very low and, accordingly, they have been until recently nearly impossible to detect,” Bradley Jolliff of Washington University in St. Louis, who worked on the study, said in a statement.

“We can now finally begin to consider the implications and the origin of water in the interior of the Moon.”

Editing by Sandra Maler

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