ISRO’s Chandrayaan-2 orbiter has detected water molecules on the moon’s surface. The researchers have analysed the data obtained by the orbiter’s imaging infrared spectrometer and said that there was widespread lunar hydration and unambiguous detection of OH and H2O signatures on the moon between 29 degrees north and 62 degrees north latitude.
The path-breaking discovery also explained the occurrence of the formation of hydroxyl molecules due to a process called space weathering (When the solar winds blow over the lunar surface). The water molecules were found on the brighter sunlit highland regions at higher latitudes of the Moon.
The discovery is very important for planetary exploration for resource utilisation in the future as several international missions are lined up to the moon for the next few years. The water molecules discovered on the Moon could be broken into oxygen that we breathe so astronauts don’t have to wear space suits anymore is a never-ending debate to date.
Oxygen created from lunar water or lunar soil could definitely be used for breathing, but it would be a work of centuries to create a breathable atmosphere around the moon. It takes a lot of gas to form a planet- or moon-scale atmosphere. Further, the moon’s gravity is low so the moon would only retain the atmosphere for a few thousand years.
Years ago, a few of the rocks brought back by the Apollo astronauts from the moon contained tiny amounts of water trapped within them. It was hypothesized that a couple of craters near the poles would have surface ice, as they never get direct sunlight. Lunar probes Clementine (USA, 1994) and Lunar Prospector (the USA, 1998) provided strong evidence suggesting water ice within one meter of the surface in those permanently shadowed craters and Chandrayaan-1 (India, 2008) confirmed it using a spectrometer.