Future Astronauts Might Guzzle Water From Ancient Moon Volcanoes

Mmm, volcano water.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read
The moon envisioned with frost forming on the surface.

This image shows what it might have looked like if frost was forming on the moon's surface billions of years ago.

Paul Hayne

NASA's Artemis program isn't just about getting astronaut boots back on the moon for a brief jaunt. The space agency has plans for a longer-term presence, which is putting a focus on where we might find water resources on the moon. A new study suggests astronauts should look into water left behind by ancient volcanoes. 

The moon seems like a quiet place today, but volcanic eruptions rocked it billions of years ago. A study by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder suggests there could be sheets of ice up to hundreds of feet thick left behind on the moon's poles as a legacy of its volcanic past. 

"We envision it as a frost on the moon that built up over time," said Andrew Wilcoski, lead author of the paper published in The Planetary Science Journal in May, in a CU Boulder statement on Wednesday

The team used computer simulations to investigate the effects of volcanoes. The models suggest volcanoes spewed out water vapor that returned to the surface where it formed into ice, a process the researchers likened to frost forming on Earth after a cold night. "According to the group's estimates, roughly 41% of the water from volcanoes may have condensed onto the moon as ice," the university said.

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The study adds to scientists' evolving understanding of water on our lunar neighbor. In 2020, NASA announced definitive evidence of water on the moon. We know it's there, but there are still questions around where, how much, where it came from and how to reach it. A paper earlier in 2022 discussed how Earth may have contributed water to the moon.  

If the computer simulations hold true, that means there could be thick ice sheets tucked into craters, hidden under the lunar soil. That water could be used for drinking or for making rocket fuel. Robotic or human explorers could confirm this. Said Wilcoski, "We really need to drill down and look for it." 

NASA's Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or Viper, expected to launch in 2023, will seek out ice deposits on the lunar south pole, giving researchers a new layer of data to work with as they tease out the story of water on the moon.