- Researchers say glass beads found on the moon’s surface could contain billions of tons of water.
- Their findings may help provide a method for humans to harvest water on the moon in the future.
- They were able to extract water from the beads just by heating them to water’s boiling point.
Glass beads on the moon’s surface may contain nearly 300 billion tons of water, which could provide a way for astronauts on future lunar missions to get water in space, a team of 28 scientists says.
Prior research in the last decades has shown that there is water on the moon. But a new study published on Monday in the Nature Geoscience journal gives insight into how humans might be able to find and harvest that water.
All smaller than a millimeter, 150 glass beads brought back to Earth were studied by a team of researchers from several Chinese institutions, including the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Two researchers at UK institutions were credited for the research as well.
The grains were collected in 2020 during China’s Chang’e-5 lunar mission.
Extracting the water from these glass particles was relatively simple. All it took was heating them to 212 degrees Fahrenheit and above, said Mahesh Anand, one of the researchers on the team, per The Guardian.
“This is going to open up new avenues which many of us have been thinking about. If you can extract the water and concentrate it in significant quantities, it’s up to you how you utilize it,” said Anand, a professor of planetary science and exploration at the Open University, per The Guardian.
The scientists say the water was created from solar winds, which blow hydrogen — one of the two elements in water — onto the lunar surface. There, the hydrogen combines with oxygen from rocks on the moon to form water, which is stored inside the beads.
Such a process means the beads can be refilled with water as solar winds continue to blow over the moon, the study said.
The glass beads themselves form when small meteorites hit the surface of the moon and melt with material on the surface, per the study.
It’s important to keep in mind that the particles studied by the scientists were each made of less than 0.2% water, Sen Hu, one of the study’s laboratory researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Insider in an email.
Still, with these beads making up around 3 to 5% of the lunar soil collected, the scientists estimate that there could be up to 297 billion tons of water in these particles.
Hu said the water extracted from the glass beads shows promise that it could be used in future lunar missions.
Hejiu Hui, a Nanjing University researcher credited in the study, told CNN that these findings are a step toward finding resources that could someday be used for drinking water, or even rocket fuel.
“This is one of the most exciting discoveries we’ve made,” Anand told The Guardian. “With this finding, the potential for exploring the moon in a sustainable manner is higher than it’s ever been.”
This discovery comes as the European Space Agency considers if it would be viable to establish permanent bases on the moon. One such project is a “Moon village” that would be crewed and open to member states, similar to how the International Space Station operates.
NASA also plans to once again send astronauts to the Moon in 2025, 50 years after man last set foot on the lunar surface.
China is also working toward putting its own man on the moon, pledging to complete such a mission by 2030.