The moon is wetter than we thought, it turns out. Much wetter. And no one is sure exactly what that means.
A new analysis of tiny fragments of hardened lava indicates that the moon has plenty of water inside it, maybe as much as the Earth, according to msnbc.com, citing a study in Science magazine. The water content in the magma was 100 times higher than had been suspected before, Bloomberg News reported. This discovery adds to previous data that indicated that some parts of the surface of the moon were much wetter than predicted as well.
Scientists are surprised, and say that the discoveries will force a rethinking of what we believe about the moon's creation. The prevailing hypothesis holds that it was the result of the Earth and a Mars-sized body colliding. Scientists had believed that such an impact would have baked out most of the water in the parts that became the moon, msnbc said.
"You really would not expect, based on what we know about this model, to have any water present in the moon at all," said the study's lead author, Erik Hauri, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "The fact that these (samples) have terrestrial levels of water is really a stunner."
The research began when a member of the team at Brown University gave a vial of moon dirt to a freshman student and asked him to analyze it. The student noticed some clear crystals in the dirt that contained a small amount of glass. The water content in the trapped glass was much higher than expected, indicating the existence of a reservoir of water deep inside the moon that may have the same concentration of water as some reservoirs on Earth, the New York Times reported.
Previous research had demonstrated the existence of water in lunar craters, but the thinking was that it was a result of impacts from meteors or comets. If the interior of the moon really does contain as much water as the new research suggests, then ice that exists at the bottom of lunar craters might be the result of volcanic activity, rather than a large impact, Bloomberg News said.
The results are confusing, to say the least. Researchers say that the existence of so much water on and in the moon may mean that the impact that formed the moon was much hotter, or much cooler, than previously imagined. Whatever it means, it adds new mystery to our near neighbor in the heavens.