A lunar meteorite uncovered in Africa 13 years ago may hold a mineral that only forms in the presence of water, according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.
The space rock — known as meteorite NWA2727 — is important because it is seemingly hard evidence that there is in fact water on or below the surface of the moon.
To make this discovery, scientists from Tohoku University analyzed the meteorite and found that it contained the substance moganite. As the mineral only forms in the presence of water, and as the meteorite landed in a desert, there must be some frozen liquid on the moon.
Moganite is commonly found within the cracks of rocks and appears through brecciation, where older rocks form a large mass. However, that process can only happen in the presence of water.
“For the first time, we can prove that there is water ice in the lunar material,” lead author Masahiro Kayama, a researcher at Tohoku University told Space.com. “In a moganite, there is less water, because moganite forms from the evaporation of water. That’s the case on the surface of the moon. But in the subsurface, much water remains as ice, because it’s protected from the sunlight.”
Though the team is not sure, they believe the water on the moon likely got there from asteroids and comets some three billion years ago. From there, they postulate the liquid became trapped in the surface and cooled. Then, another rock hit the moon and sent the water-filled rocks down to Earth.
The presence of moganite from a meteor that landed in a desert does suggest water on the moon, but it is not definitive evidence. Further missions need to collect samples from the lunar surface. It may also help to look back at older missions as well.
“It also highlights the need to study Apollo samples with modern analytical techniques,” said Noah Petro, a lunar geologist with NASA who was not involved in the research, according to Gizmodo.
In addition, scientists are not sure where water would sit on the moon or how much exists. Even if they do find water, nobody is sure how they would manage to extract or use it.