Scientists have discovered evidence of magmatic water on the moon’s surface, believed to have originated from an unidentified source deep in the lunar core, according to NASA.
The latest discovery, based on data from NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper, or M3, instrument on board the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, is the first of its kind to detect magmatic water on the moon’s surface from its lunar orbit. Earlier studies had shown the existence of magmatic water in lunar samples brought to Earth by the Apollo mission four decades ago.
"Now that we have detected water that is likely from the interior of the moon, we can start to compare this water with other characteristics of the lunar surface," Rachel Klima, from the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in Laurel, Md., said in a statement.
The M3 took images of an impact crater called Bullialdus near the lunar equator, whose central peak is made up of a type of rock formed deep within the lunar crust by trapped magma. The rock was exhumed from the depths, according to scientists, by the impact responsible for the formation of the Bullialdus crater..
"Compared to its surroundings, we found that the central portion of this crater contains a significant amount of hydroxyl - a molecule consisting of one oxygen atom and one hydrogen atom -- which is evidence that the rocks in this crater contain water that originated beneath the lunar surface," said Klima, the lead author of the study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience on Aug. 25.
In 2009, the M3 had mapped the lunar surface and discovered water molecules near the poles. Scientists believed this water to be a thin layer formed from solar wind hitting the moon's surface -- a process that is unlikely to be the source of the newly found water, because the Bullialdus crater lies in a region that does not favor the production of significant amounts of water from solar wind.
According to scientists, the discovery of internal magmatic water will provide greater insights into the moon's volcanic processes and internal composition, which will help solve mysteries about how the moon itself was formed and how magmatic processes changed as it cooled.
"NASA missions like Lunar Prospector and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite and instruments like M3 have gathered crucial data that fundamentally changed our understanding of whether water exists on the surface of the moon," S. Pete Worden, center director at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., said in the statement.
"Similarly, we hope that upcoming NASA missions such as the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, will change our understanding of the lunar sky."
NASA is set to launch the LADEE spacecraft on Sept. 6 from its facility at Wallops Island -- less than 200 miles from Washington, D.C. -- on Virginia’s Atlantic coast. The probe is expected to gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the moon’s thin atmosphere, and determine if dust is being lofted into the lunar sky.