For Almost 40 Years, We Missed This: Apollo Moon Rocks Contain Water

By Smriti Rao | March 10, 2010 2:56 pm

moonOver the last year, scientists have discovered that the moon isn’t a bone-dry place, as we previously imagined. Water ice has been spotted not just at the lunar south pole but also the north pole, and scientists have noted that the north pole deposits contain enough water ice to sustain a human lunar base. Now, scientists studying hundreds of pounds of moon rocks brought back by Apollo astronauts have found that samples containing the mineral apatite have minute traces of water.

The new analyses of the samples, revealed last week at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas, show that the evidence of the moon’s water was right under scientists’ noses for almost 40 years–they just didn’t have sensitive enough instruments to detect it. The water levels detected in Apollo moon rocks and volcanic glasses are in the thousands of parts per million, at most—which explains why analyses of the samples in the late 1960s and early 1970s concluded that the moon was absolutely arid [National Geographic].

Three different research teams found traces of water in apatite samples. Using a technique called secondary ion mass spectrometry, which bombards a sample with ions and then weighs the ejected secondary ions in a mass spectrometer to determine their atomic masses and abundances [New Scientist], scientists found water in minuscule quantities in the apatite–up to 6,000 parts per million. The apatite examined by one team was taken from one of the moon’s mares–the dark regions that are believed to have been formed by ancient magma oceans. This is the first time that water has been found in lunar magmatic material.

One of the research teams also found that the ratio of hydrogen isotopes in the apatite’s water differed greatly from the isotope mix found in earthly water, leading scientists to question where the water on the moon came from. Researcher James Greenwood believes comets may have crashed into the infant moon before its magma ocean crystallised, supplying the water. Or it may have come from a Mars-sized planet, dubbed Theia, that slammed into Earth 4.5 billion years ago to make the moon [New Scientist]. Another possibility proposed by geoscientist Francis McCubbin is that when that collission happened, not quite all the water was driven off when chunks of Earth were flung spaceward to form the moon—in other words, the water may be from an ancient version Earth [National Geographic].

Related Content:
80beats: Tons of Water Ice at the Moon’s North Pole Could Sustain a Lunar Base
80beats: NASA: Bombing The Moon Provided Definite Evidence of Lunar Water
Bad Astronomy: NASA Finds Reservoir of Water Ice on the Moon!
80beats: Moon Plume Detected! NASA’s Lunar Crash Wasn’t a Flop, After All
80beats: So What Exactly Happened with that Crashing Moon Probe?
80beats: Lunar Impact! NASA Probe Slams into Moon to Search for Water

Image: NASA/ Lunar and Planetary Institute and G. Bacon (STScI)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space, Technology
MORE ABOUT: Apollo program, moon, water
  • bigjohn756

    Great! That certainly wets your apatite, doesn’t it?

  • Kevin Taniguchi

    That’s amazing!

  • -Ron Noonan

    Nasa found water in full liquid form on the moon in 2009 and plan to use it to produce fuel (Hydrogen and Oxygen) for further space travel from the moon. You Know the HHO gas that all the oil company scientists have been dis-crediting for the last three years. Hydrogen is the most abundant fuel in the universe as we know it now! If Hydrogen and Oxygen are good enough for NASA to push a rocket into space, why is it not the case that it would work in an auto (IT DOES). More research on HHO gas needs to be done and NOT by Govt (Whose politicians campaigns depend on oil contributions) or Oil companies! -Ron Noonan “I haven’t seen any gasoline rockets lately” lol

  • V.Dorobantu

    It is surprisingly the researchers didn’t find the traces of H and O (the atoms forming water), in samples from the Moon, because at that time (late 1960s and early 1970s) there have existed physical nondestructive methods of analysis. At that time, as well now, the neutron activation analysis ,the fluorescent method and charged particle analysis were known and worked with a precision of parts per million, even more sensible, to find what quantities of every atoms are in a matrix.

  • Max Q

    Am I taking stupid pills or is this a misprint. Tiny trace quantities = 6000parts per million ?! Thats 0.6%!!!
    The weight of water in the air at room temperature and 50% humidity is around 0.6%. They were measuring this accurately enough centuries ago.

    Houston we have a problem – need some cutting edge 18th century lab equipment pronto

  • YouRang

    Amen brother Max Q. That’s why I logged on. Surely it must be a misprint; it must be 6000 parts per billion or even per trillion.

  • Jennifer Angela

    I suggest: Let´s send all terrible people there. It wouldn´t kill them, they would be provided with water! I can think of certain individuals I would like to move to the moon. :-) :-) :-)

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