Breakthrough hydrogen discovery in Moon samples could lead to permanent lunar bases

Hydrogen has ‘potential as resource that can be used directly on lunar surface’, says scientist

Vishwam Sankaran
Wednesday 22 November 2023 05:57 GMT

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Scientists have discovered how water and hydrogen are formed and retained on the Moon’s surface, taking humans a step closer to establishing permanent lunar bases.

Finding ways to make and utilise fuel on the Moon are key for the future of human space exploration, according to astronomers.

Water and hydrogen on the surface of the Moon are potentially vital resources for future lunar bases and longer-range space exploration.

Effective use of these key resources on the Moon depends on developing a better understanding of where and how water is formed and retained within the lunar soil that is also called regolith.

“Hydrogen has the potential to be a resource that can be used directly on the lunar surface when there are more regular or permanent installations there,” said study co-author Katherine D Burgess from the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL).

“Locating resources and understanding how to collect them prior to getting to the Moon is going to be incredibly valuable for space exploration,” explained Dr Burgess.

Until now, scientists have found hydrogen from solar winds can react with regolith and form water on the Moon.

However, researchers said this water is formed and retained differently, depending on the content of other minerals in the regolith and other factors.

Microscopy techniques to assess lunar soil samples collected from the Apollo missions were used in the research published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment.

Scientists found hydrogen from solar wind is concentrated in small voids within calcium-phosphate minerals in the lunar soil.

“This is the first time scientists have demonstrated the detection of hydrogen-bearing species within vesicles in lunar samples,” said Dr Burgess.

The research revealed that the weathering of lunar soil by solar wind can form and trap hydrogen on the Moon, indicating grains of regolith containing some minerals can be potential fuel sources.

This finding could help inform the search for potential locations on the Moon where hydrogen and water fuel could be more concentrated.

“Previously, the same team at NRL used state-of-the-art techniques... to detect helium in lunar samples, and other researchers have found water in other planetary samples, but this is the first publication to show hydrogen in-situ in lunar samples,” said Dr Burgess.

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