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Researchers Detect Water on Moon

Scientists, including one from the University of Tennessee, are helping to unravel a mystery that's decades old.

The researchers have examined light reflections off the surface of the moon and found signs of water in the lunar soil.

When Apollo astronauts brought back moon rocks in the 1960s and '70s, most of the cases containing the minerals leaked trace amounts of water. Researchers thought the water might have come from Earth's atmosphere, rather than the moon rocks themselves.

The default presumption for the next several decades was that, aside from some ice at the poles, there was not likely any water on the moon.

Now, a team of researchers, including Tennessee professor Larry Taylor, have determined areas where water is likely to be found using a device call the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3).

The M3, carried aboard the India's Chandrayyan-1 lunar satellite, analyzed light reflections to determine what materials make up the soil. Different minerals reflect light in different wavelengths.

Specifically, scientists looked for wavelengths indicating a bond between hydrogen and oxygen and found signs of water in the thin, uppermost layers of the moon's soil.

Where did it come from?

The current theory is oxygen from the moon's soil and rocks combined with hydrogen deposited at a high speed on the surface by solar winds.

With those hydrogen atoms moving at a speed of around one-third the speed of light, the bonds of the oxygen in the soil and minerals are occasionally broken, re-combining to form water. Researchers believe there's about a quart of water per ton of soil.

The M3 team, funded by NASA, is led by researchers at Brown University. Taylor and UT's Planetary Geosciences Institute collaborated with colleagues at Brown and in India.

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