Through data provided by NASA’s space probes, a team of researchers discovered that the Moon and Mercury may contain more water ice than previously thought. This could serve as an important resource to support long-term lunar explorations.

The researchers were able to make their discovery through NASA’ Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) robotic spacecraft.

Using the data collected by LRO, the researchers discovered new deposits of water ice near the Moon’s southern region.

“We found shallow craters tend to be located in areas where surface ice was previously detected near the south pole of the Moon, and inferred this shallowing is most likely due to the presence of buried thick ice deposits,” lead researcher Lior Rubanenko of the University of California said in a statement.

Rubanenko’s colleague Noa Petro, a scientist at NASA’s LRO Project, noted that the existence of water ice on the Moon could have a practical purpose for the space agency’s upcoming lunar mission.

“If confirmed, this potential reservoir of frozen water on the Moon may be sufficiently massive to sustain long-term lunar exploration,” Petro said.

Like the Moon, Mercury’s water ice deposits were also found near the planet’s poles. According to Nancy Chabot, an instrument scientist for MESSENGER, the probe’s readings indicated that the water on Mercury could be fresher than the Moon’s.

“We showed Mercury’s polar deposits to be dominantly composed of water ice extensively distributed in both Mercury’s north and south polar regions,” she explained. “Mercury’s ice deposits appear to be much less patchy than those on the Moon, and relatively fresh, perhaps emplaced or refreshed within the last tens of millions of years.”

According to the researchers, water ice deposits likely formed on the polar regions of Mercury and the Moon due to these cosmic bodies’ rotation. Unlike Earth, the spin axes of the Moon and Mercury prevent their polar regions from facing the Sun. Due to the lack of sunlight, these regions are always cold and provide the perfect environmental condition for ice water deposits to accumulate.

The findings of the researchers were presented in a new study published in Nature Geoscience.

Moon's Water Ice
Conceptual illustration of permanently shadowed, shallow icy craters near the lunar south pole. NASA/UCLA