For decades, scientists have thought the moon was a dry, dusty place, but it may be time to re-write the astronomy books.
New findings are upending decades of understanding about our closest neighbor in space; an analysis of satellite data suggests the moon’s interior may actually be pretty wet, which could help make it easier to fly to the moon and back, or even stay there awhile, reports CBS News’ Jan Crawford.
Using a recent picture of the moon’s surface, and measuring the reflecting light, researchers at Brown University were able to detect water molecules in the colored areas. Red and yellow indicates a high concentration.
The researchers say there could be as much water there as what is found under the earth’s crust.
Planetary geologist Ralph Milliken is the lead author of the study.
“Some of these deposits that we observe on the moon span thousands of square kilometers. They’re absolutely enormous,” Milliken said.
It works like this: when the moon was young and still volcanically active, violent eruptions released water molecules trapped in the moon’s mantle. As the magma cooled, the molecules became trapped again — this time inside volcanic glass beads embedded in moon rocks left behind on the surface.
A similar process happens when volcanoes erupt here on Earth.
On the moon, Milliken says most of the water is dispersed deep below the crust, locked away in its rocky interior.
“We can bake that water out of those rocks,” said Derrick Pitts, Chief Astronomer at the Franklin Institute.
He says the moon’s water could be used for drinking, as well as to provide oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for rocket fuel.
“We wouldn’t have to carry so many basic commodities to the moon, which turns out to be one of the most expensive things we can do in space exploration,” Pitts said.
“To actually get, say, a liter of water you probably have to mine and harvest maybe one to 300 cubic feet of material. An important question in all of that would be, is it economically feasible to do so?” Milliken said.
Milliken doesn’t think the discovery of large amounts of water on the moon means it could support life as we know it. He says the conditions there are still pretty inhospitable to the kinds of organisms we have here on Earth.
© 2017 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.