Ancient volcanoes on Earth’s moon may have created water, a new study found.
Billions of years ago, a series of volcanic eruptions broke loose on the moon, engulfing hundreds of thousands of square miles of the orb’s surface in hot lava, researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder in the US said in a statement. Over time, that lava created dark blotches that gave the face of the moon its familiar appearance today.
The new research suggests that the volcanoes may have left another lasting impact on the moon’s surface: Thick sheets of ice.
“We envision it as a frost on the moon that built up over time,” said lead author Andrew Wilcoski, a graduate student in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences (APS) and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at CU Boulder, in a university release.
The research team published their findings in The Planetary Science Journal last month.
They drew on computer simulations in which they recreated conditions on the moon long before complex life began on the planet Earth. They found that ancient moon volcanoes spewed huge amounts of water vapor, which then settled onto the surface, forming thick stores of ice that may still be hidden inside lunar craters.
“If any humans had been alive at the time, they may even have seen a sliver of that frost near the border between day and night on the moon’s surface,” the CU Boulder statement read.
Assistant professor in APS and LASP and the study’s co-author Paul Hayne said that it is a potential bounty for future explorers who will need access to drinking water and to process into rocket fuel.
“It’s possible that five or 10 meters below the surface, you have big sheets of ice,” said Hayne.
In a previous study, Hayne and his colleagues estimated that nearly 6,000 square miles of the moon’s surface could be capable of trapping and hanging onto ice, mostly near the moon’s north and south poles. However, it still remains unclear where all that water came from in the first place.
“There are a lot of potential sources at the moment,” Hayne said, adding that volcanoes could be a big one.
He explained that from two to four billion years ago, the moon had tens of thousands of volcanoes that erupted across its surface, generating huge bodies of lava, “not unlike the features you might see in Hawaii today – only much more immense,” according to the statement.
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