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Study: The Moon’s poles might not be the only places to find lunar water

Global map of hydrogen abundances on Moon
Click for full image.

According to a new study published in June in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, while the lunar poles might contain water ice in permanently shadowed craters — based on detected hydrogen abundances — there is an even higher concentration of hydrogen found in the Aristarchus Plateau region in the lower mid-latitudes.

The map to the right is figure 9 from the paper, annotated to post here, showing the Moon’s hydrogen abundances globally, with lighter areas having higher concentrations. The boxes indicate five lunar regions that appear to hold higher levels of hydrogen and thus might contain higher amounts of water. From the paper’s conclusions:

The bulk hydrogen map also led to the first identification of bulk hydrogen enhancements within a pyroclastic deposit (Aristarchus Plateau), an identification that corroborates previous suggestions that hydrogen was among the volatiles involved in the eruption and emplacement of pyroclastic deposits. Further, with the understanding that there are enhanced bulk hydrogen abundances within at least one pyroclastic deposit and not just a surface enhancement, this leads to the implication that the hydrogen contained within just the Aristarchus Plateau may represent a significant fraction of the hydrogen that exists in the Moon’s near-subsurface, including that at both lunar poles. [emphasis mine]

It is important to note that finding high hydrogen abundances does not automatically mean you have found water. For hydrogen to exist on the Moon the atom must be bound in a molecule, and usually water is chosen as the most likely candidate. In the case of Aristarchus, however, the paper instead suggests that hydrogen was placed there as pyroclastic deposits, when active volcanism was occurring a long time ago. While water ice might not be present now in these regions, the data also suggests that water played a major role in its formation.

These hydrogen abundances however also signal the faint possibility of that water ice might be buried here, below the surface, left over from those early volcanic processes. The data also suggests even if the hydrogen is bound in other materials, mining and processing might be able to extract water from it.

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On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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