pyroclastic glass beads from an Apollo Moon rock sample

Magnified look at pyroclastic glass beads from an Apollo Moon rock sample. Credit: GJ Taylor, UH HIGP

A study published this week in Nature Geoscience by two Hawaiʻi Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) scientists at the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at UH Mānoa, sheds new light on—and raises new questions about—the presence of water on the Moon.

Katharine Robinson, graduate assistant and lead author of the study, and Professor G. Jeffrey Taylor looked at hundreds of chemical analyses of Moon rocks containing water trapped in volcanic glasses or chemically bound in mineral grains inside lunar rocks.

They found that the amount of water in the Moon’s interior varies regionally; rocks originating from some areas in the lunar interior contain much more water than rocks from other places.

The source of the Moon’s water has important implications for determining the source of Earth’s water, which is vital to life. There are two options: 1) Either water was inherited by the Moon from the Earth during the Moon-forming impact between a Mars-sized planet and a molten, gasseous, proto-Earth some 4.5 billions years ago, or 2) It was added to the Moon later by comets or asteroids. It might also be a combination of these two processes.

“Basically, whatever happened to the Moon also happened to the Earth,” said Robinson. “Our work is surprising because it shows that lunar formation and accretion were more complex than previously thought.”

The study of water in the Moon is still quite new, and many rocks have not yet been studied for water. The HIGP researchers have a new set of Apollo samples from NASA that they will be studying in the next few months, looking for additional clues about the early life of Earth and the Moon.

Learn more

Learn more about how these discoveries provide a new tool to unravel the processes involved in the formation of the Moon, how the lunar crust cooled and its impact history.

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