Science

China’s Lunar Lander Detects Moon Water Up-Close in Historic First

China’s Chang’e 5 probe has found the first-ever evidence of water on the moon’s surface. Images taken by the probe show moon rock and the surrounding lunar soil in which water was discovered.

The discovery was published January 7 in a research article titled “In situ detection of water on the Moon by the Chang’e 5 lander” by Chinese scientists in the peer-reviewed journal. science progress.

How was water discovered on the moon up close?

A joint research team led by scientists from the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (IGGCAS) analyzed images and reflectance spectroscopic data taken by the Chang’e 5 lander using the Lunar Mineralogy spectrometer (LMS) at the landing site. . The instrument uses visible and infrared light to analyze the mineral composition of a small region on the moon’s surface.

Wide angle image showing the section of the moon analyzed for water by the Chinese Chang'e 5 lunar lander.
An image taken by the Chang’e 5 lunar lander showing the patch of land on the Moon that was analyzed containing soil and rock.

The water content can be estimated based on the way the water molecules absorb light. However, one of the challenges of detecting water based on infrared light is the fact that heat from the moon’s surface changes the readings. The study researchers were able to compensate for this by using a thermal correction model.

A close-up image of soil and rocks analyzed using a lunar mineral spectrometer on board the lander
A close-up image of soil and rock analyzed using a lunar mineral spectrometer on board the lander.

The resulting data clearly showed the water content in both soils and vesicular lightweight and porous rocks, although it was not much: less than 120 ppm was detected in lunar soil, and about 180 ppm was detected in rocks. This equates to 120 grams of water (~ 4.06 fluid ounces) in 1 ton of soil and 180 grams of water (~ 6.09 fluid ounces) in 1 ton of rock.

Water content readings from different spots within the area analyzed by the probe
Water content readings from different spots within the area analyzed by the probe. The highest water content is found in rocks.

Scientists believe that the soil may have been cultured with water from the solar wind, while the higher water content of the rocks is likely from an unknown source beneath the moon’s surface – the rocks may have emerged from deeper inside the moon during an earlier volcanic eruption.

After analyzing the soil and rocks, the Chang’e 5 lander collected the samples (weighing 1.73 kg / 3.82 lb) to return to scientists on Earth.

“The samples returned are a mixture of granules on and below the surface,” says Lin Hongli, a researcher at IGGCAS. XinhuaExplaining the importance of on-site detections. “But the probe on site can measure the outermost layer of the moon’s surface.”

Image of the rock and soil at the landing site analyzed and collected by the probe
An image of rocks and soil at the landing site analyzed and collected by the probe. Image via Xinhua.

First time again to discover water on the moon

There have been previous discoveries of evidence of water on the Moon, but they were all based on lunar samples brought back to Earth or from data collected by instruments from afar.

In 2008, a study of lunar rock samples collected during the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s revealed evidence of water particles trapped within glassy volcanic pebbles.

In 2018, scientists used data from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper on India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe to prove the presence of water ice on the moon’s surface.

NASA announced: “In the darkest and coldest parts of the polar regions, a team of scientists has directly observed definitive evidence of water ice on the surface of the Moon.” “These ice deposits are irregularly distributed and can be old. In the Antarctic, most of the ice is concentrated in craters on the moon, while Arctic ice is more widespread, but sparsely spread.”

In 2020, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) flew a modified Boeing 747 equipped with a powerful telescope and confirmed for the first time the presence of water on the sunlit surface of the Moon.

nasa confirm water on moon with 747
Illustration of the modified 747 that NASA’s European Space Agency used to confirm the presence of water across the moon. NASA/Daniel Rutter image.

“This discovery indicates that water may be distributed across the surface of the Moon, and is not limited to cold, shaded places,” NASA announced. Sophia discovered water molecules (H2O) at Clavius ​​Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth, located in the Moon’s southern hemisphere. Data from this site reveals water at concentrations from 100 to 412 parts per million — roughly the equivalent of a 12-ounce bottle of water — trapped in a cubic meter of soil scattered on the lunar surface.”

“We had indications that the familiar water we know – H2O – might be present on the sunlit side of the moon,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division. “Now we know it exists.”

This latest confirmation of water on the lunar surface by the Chang’e 5 lander was not made from lunar orbit or from Earth but from the site, setting a historical precedent.

“Numerous orbital observations and sample measurements completed during the past decade have provided evidence for the presence of water (such as hydroxyl and/or H2O) on the Moon,” the Chinese Academy of Sciences wrote in a press release. “However, no in situ measurements have been made on the lunar surface.”


Image credits: Illustrations of Chang’e 5 moon images by the authors of the research paper and licensed under CC BY-NC

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