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UH researcher makes first in-situ detection of water on the Moon

The moon is pictured in this image from December 6, 2006. A new study shows the moon's interior might contain water.
Roberto Schmidt
/
AFP/Getty Images
The moon is pictured in this image from December 6, 2006. A new study shows the moon's interior might contain water.

A research collaboration between the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Hawaiʻi is trying to understand the distribution and concentration of water on the Moon.

The team scanned the Moon’s surface using a spectrometer to detect traces of water on surface minerals. This is the first in-situ detection of water on the Moon.

In 2009, China's Chang'e 5 lunar lander made the first real time detection of water during an orbital mission.

Fast forward to December 2020, the lunar lander makes another historic first by taking spectroscopic images of water on the Moon.

University of Hawaiʻi assistant earth science professor Shuai Li explains how a spectrometer can see colors undetectable with the human eye, saying, "Our eyes can only see certain colors. Based on colors we can tell different things, right? The ocean’s blue, the Earth is blue, trees are green. The same principle can be applied to colors we cannot see — or the electromagnetic waves at different frequencies, our eyes cannot see."

"It’s interesting that water has its own unique color in the infrared region. That’s where we cannot see. So when you see a 'color' in that frequency, you can tell immediately that’s water," Li told HPR.

However, this is not the kind of water we drink every day. The team has yet to determine if what they detected are water molecules or hydroxide (OH-) — a chemical with a very similar molecular structure to water.

"The Moon is dryer than the driest desert on the Earth," joked Li.

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