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China finds a water reserve on the Moon of 270,000 million tons


The Chang'e 5 probe confirms that the solar wind has stored the precious element in the lunar soil, but it would be very expensive to extract it

Less than two years ago, China took a small, big step in its goal of becoming a space power.

For the first time, the Asian giant was able to send a robotic ship to the Oceanus Procellarum, the ocean of storms, a huge dark spot on the Moon visible to the naked eye from Earth where they are, according to those responsible for the Chinese space program. , the youngest terranes of our satellite.


Chang'e 5

probe landed near Mount Rümker, a 70-kilometer-long mass that rises more than a kilometer above the horizon, used a robotic arm to take samples, packaged them, and sent them to the orbiter hovering over the Moon. .

From there they were dispatched back to Earth.

And all this in a single lunar day, about 14 Earth days.

The analysis of these samples, the first collected on the Moon since the Soviet

Lunik 24

mission in 1976, today reveals a surprise.

China believes it has solved one of the biggest mysteries about the Moon: where does the water it contains come from?

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The Moon probably formed when a planet the size of Mars crashed into Earth more than 4 billion years ago.

The cataclysm caused a piece of Earth to be torn off and completely covered in molten rock by the violence of the impact.

The temperatures must have been so hellish that all the water must have evaporated forever.

However, in recent years, several robotic missions and terrestrial telescopes have confirmed that the Moon continues to store water;

and not droplets, but tons in the form of ice.

Much of it is in the perpetual shadow areas of the poles, where the sun never reaches.

And those unexplored regions, especially those of the South Pole, have become the place where the first manned missions to the satellite will land in more than 50 years.

They go there precisely because there is water, and with it possible sustenance for colonists and raw material for rocket fuel with which, one day, they will reach Mars.

Until now, it was not known where that ice water came from.

Other space probes have pointed out that there is also it in the illuminated areas of the satellite without once again knowing how it got there, perhaps on board asteroids or from some reserve not detected until now.

In a study published today, scientists from the Chinese National Academy of Sciences (CAS) in collaboration with two European researchers, ensure that the key to the origin of water on the Moon lies in the samples sent to Earth by Chang'e


from the northwest of the satellite.

These contain impact glasses, small grains of different colors that probably formed at high temperatures after the meteorites collided.

These glasses collected by the Chinese probe contain small amounts of water, according to the study, published in the specialized journal

Nature Geoscience


Impact glass collected by the Chinese probe 'Chang'e 5'.CAGS

Sen Hu, from the ANC's Planetary Physics Laboratory, explains that the water content in the crystals is about 2,000 parts per million, or about 2,000 grams for every ton of soil.

"On the Moon, meteorite impacts are very frequent and occur throughout the entire satellite, with which the glasses are distributed throughout its geography, from the equator to the polar regions."

The precious element may be in its molecular variant, with two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen, although the so-called hydroxyl is probably more abundant, with one hydrogen and one oxygen atom, explains Hu.

Researchers have estimated the total amount of H₂O on the entire Moon stored in this way: about 270 billion tons.

This is a huge reserve compared to other estimates.

In 2010, for example, a NASA radar aboard the


probe in India estimated that there were about 600 million tons at the north pole.

The Chinese samples are about a billion years younger than those collected by astronauts in the US Apollo program and the Soviet Union's robotic missions.

The latest analyzes show that these crystals have been forming for the past 2 billion years, with production peaks coinciding with periods of intense meteorite bombardment, including 68 million years ago, when another large meteorite struck Earth and wiped out to dinosaurs,

“The most interesting thing,” Hu explains, is that the water that is locked up in the lunar crystals has been generated by the Sun. Analysis of the different types of hydrogen atoms in the samples suggests that the bombardment of charged particles arriving from The Sun, called the solar wind, and which contains positively charged hydrogen atoms, penetrates the glasses and combines with the oxygen already present.

When the temperature is high enough due to solar radiation, these crystals can also release part of their H₂O charge.

"These crystals are responsible for the water cycle on the Moon," sums up the Chinese scientist.

With a view to future manned missions, "this could be an alternative source of water," acknowledges the researcher.

"The way to extract it would be to collect lunar soil, heat it in an oven at 100 degrees and capture the resulting steam," he details.

It may sound crazy, but Europa is sending a robotic mission to the Moon called Prospect to do just that as part of an experiment.

A probe will drill into the lunar soil, collect samples and heat them up to 100 degrees to study the volatile compounds present, including water vapour, James Carpenter, head of planetary sciences at the European Space Agency (ESA), explains to this newspaper.

"This project, which we will launch in 2026, can clarify whether there is water trapped in the minerals on the Moon," he highlights.

The new China-led study provides "an important demonstration that water is trapped in lunar crystals spread across the entire surface," Carpenter said.

But the amount of this material is very small, he recalls, so to get interesting amounts in manned missions, a lot of lunar soil would have to be processed.

“These glasses are probably not an exploitable water reserve”, he opines.

What this work does provide is clear evidence of the water cycle on the satellite, including the possible origin of the frozen reserves at the poles.

The Moon's atmosphere is so thin that the molecules suspended in it never interact.

In this way, when the sun hits the glass grains, it releases water vapor and it is ejected "in a ballistic trajectory", like a cannonball, explains Carpenter.

"Water tends to stay longer in colder, darker places," which would explain why it has accumulated as ice at both poles, he points out.

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-03-27

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