The Moon May be a Great Place to Make Water

By Marshall Shepherd

World Water Day is March 22nd, 2019, and the theme is “leave no one behind.” In 2010, the United Nations (UN) established that access to water is a human right. Billions of people still live without safe drinking water, particularly marginalized groups around the world. Water is essential to life on Earth and other places in the solar system that we may visit at some point. Earlier in the week, I delivered a keynote lecture at Athens Academy Water Day. I ended the lecture with a picture of the dry, barren landscape of the Martian surface. I made the point that even if we go to the Moon or Mars, water will be required because it is essential to life. Ironically, I ran across a new study last night by a group of NASA scientists. They argue that our Moon may be natural “water-making” factory. Here’s why.

To explain the water-making potential of the Moon, I have to start with a definition of the solar wind. If you are scratching your head at this point, don’t worry it will make sense shortly. The solar wind is a stream of charged particles (protons and electrons mostly) flowing outward from the Sun. The Solar Physics website at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center says:

The solar wind streams off of the Sun in all directions at speeds of about 400 km/s (about 1 million miles per hour). The source of the solar wind is the Sun’s hot corona. The temperature of the corona is so high that the Sun’s gravity cannot hold on to it. Although we understand why this happens we do not understand the details about how and where the coronal gases are accelerated to these high velocities.

The solar wind is not uniform and varies significantly. According to NASA scientists, the solar wind that bombards the Earth and Moon could hold the key to making water. Scientists hypothesize that the solar wind enriches lunar surface ingredients that could make water.