Scientists pinpoint likely locations of moon water

Published: 24 December 2008

Scientists have discovered where they believe ice is most likely to be found on the moon.

Scientists have discovered where they believe ice is most likely to be found on the moon.

The team of astrophysicists from the Universities of Glasgow and Durham used a new method of analysing data, collected by NASA’s 1998 Lunar Prospecter probe, to pinpoint the likely locations of ice on Earth’s satellite.

They concluded that polar craters shaded from the sun, where temperatures are as low as minus 170 degree Celsius, are the likely locations of ice in concentrations of up to 10 grams per kilo of rock.

The presence of water on the moon would be a major boost for plans to locate a manned based on the satellite and use it as a launchpad for further exploration of the universe.

Dr Luis Teodoro, of the University of Glasgow, said: “We used a newly developed technique to show that the hydrogen on the moon is concentrated into permanently shaded craters near to the lunar poles. Hydrogen, together with the oxygen that is abundant within moon rock, is a key element in making water.”

Dr Vincent Eke, in the Institute for Computational Cosmology, at Durham University, said: “Water ice should be stable for billions of years on the moon provided that it receives no sunlight. If the hydrogen is present as water ice then our results imply that the top metre of the moon holds about enough water to fill up Kielder Water.”

Kielder Water, in Northumberland, holds 200 billion litres of water, making it the largest UK reservoir by capacity.

However the researchers say that instead of being water ice, hydrogen may be present in the form of protons fired from the sun into the dusty lunar surface.

The research may be of immediate use in lunar exploration.  Dr Richard Elphic, in the Planetary Systems Branch, NASA Ames Research Centre, said: "These results will help NASA's soon-to-be launched Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) and
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) missions.

“For example, LCROSS aims to liberate water by impacting into permanently shadowed polar terrain where ice may exist, and our improved maps of hydrogen abundance can help LCROSS select a promising impact site. These maps will also help focus LRO’s search for possible polar ice by identifying hydrogen-rich locales.”

The research was led by Dr Eke together with colleagues from the University of Glasgow and the Planetary Systems Branch, Space Science and Astrobiology Division, of NASA Ames Research Centre in California.

The research was funded by a Royal Society University Research Fellowship, a Leverhulme Research Fellowship and a NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Participating Scientist Programme.

The findings are published in the International Journal of Solar System Studies, Icarus.

For more information, contact Stuart Forsyth in the University of Glasgow Media Relations Office on 0141 330 4831 or email

First published: 24 December 2008