Water on the Moon could have proto-Earth origins

New analysis of ancient Moon rocks reveals surprising results


Credit: NASA

Apollo 14 Astronauts Edgar Mitchell and Alan Shepard look at the rock samples they brought back from the Moon.

By Kieron Allen

The barren, featureless surface of the Moon doesn’t immediately appear to be a habitat abundant in water. But recent research has shown than within many ancient lunar rocks there is a store of water and, what’s more, the life-giving liquid could even have originated from the proto-Earth, maybe even surviving the formation of the Moon itself.

Jessica Barnes and her team at The Open University made the discovery after re-analysing lunar rocks returned during the Apollo missions.

After investigating the amount of water present in the mineral apatite, a calcium phosphate mineral found in pieces of the lunar crust, the team concluded that the Moon was in fact much wetter than was imagined during the Apollo era.

“These are some of the oldest rocks we have from the Moon and are much older than the oldest rocks found on Earth,” said Barnes. “The antiquity of these rocks make them the most appropriate samples for trying to understand the water content of the Moon soon after it formed about 4.5 billion years ago and for unravelling where in the Solar System that water came from.”

The Open University team discovered significant amounts of water trapped in the crystal structure of apatite.

“The water locked into the mineral apatite in the Moon rocks studied has an isotopic signature very similar to that of the Earth and some carbonaceous chondrite meteorites,” said Barnes. “The remarkable consistency between the hydrogen composition of lunar samples and water-reservoirs of the Earth strongly suggests that there is a common origin for water in the Earth-Moon system.”




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