Beads of glass could become a key source of water for future crewed settlements on the moon, researchers say.
That claim is based on an assessment of the water contained within a sampling of glassy beads that were created over the course of millennia by cosmic impacts on the moon, and ended up being brought back to Earth in 2020 by China’s Chang’e-5 sample return mission.
A spectroscopic analysis determined that the beads contained more water than the researchers expected based on past studies. They surmised that interactions between hydrogen ions in the solar wind and oxygen-bearing materials in lunar soil created H2O molecules that could be trapped within the glass — and then diffused under the right conditions.
Based on an extrapolation of such findings, the research team — headed by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences — estimates that glass beads in lunar soil may contain up to 270 trillion kilograms (595 trillion pounds, or 71 trillion gallons) of water.
“We propose that impact glass beads in lunar soils are a prime water reservoir candidate able to drive the lunar surface water cycle,” the researchers report in Nature Geoscience.