New research out of CU Boulder suggests that ancient moon volcanoes may have led to massive ice sheets forming near the moon’s poles.

The research published in the Planetary Science Journal indicates that 2 billion to 4 billion years ago, volcanic eruptions spewed water vapor and carbon monoxide into the moon’s atmosphere. The water vapor may have settled on the surface in sheets of ice hundreds of feet thick.

Paul Hayne, study co-author and assistant professor in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics), was inspired by his previous work using data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

“Other researchers proposed temporary atmospheres could have formed around the moon during large lunar eruptions. We wanted to follow up on the observations by evaluating this theory for an ancient supply of water to the moon’s poles,” Hayne said.

This project, which took about a year from start to finish, used models to verify that volcanic eruptions could have been a strong source of water to form ancient ice deposits. The surface ice appears patchy, which might indicate a limited present-day supply of water; however, the models suggest a more deeply buried ice layer still exists.

Hayne worked alongside Andrew Wilcoski, the study’s lead author and APS and LASP graduate student at CU Boulder. Together they estimated that there may have once been 18 quadrillion pounds of volcanic water — more water than currently sits in Lake Michigan.

“It’s difficult to say how much of this ice remains after several billions of years, but some significant fraction might still be hidden there,” Hayne said.

They believe that future moon explorers could use this untapped water for drinking and fuel.

“Water is one of the most valuable resources for human space missions,” Hayne said. “Future missions by astronauts and robotic explorers alike will need resources in order to establish a sustained presence on the moon.”

It is likely that the deeper ice deposits will prove more valuable than the patchy surface ice, Hayne said. Accessing this store would require deep drilling.

NASA’s upcoming Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) mission to the moon’s south pole will use a rover to drill down and extract water from a few centimeters deep. Haynes believes that this mission, scheduled for next year, will provide valuable knowledge toward designing missions capable of deeper drilling and water extraction.

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Anna Ridilla
2022-05-30 23:07:49
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