back to article Moon actually dryer than dem dry bones, say boffins

Spoilsport boffins, carrying out a new analysis of lunar rocks brought back by the Apollo missions of yesteryear, have pooh-poohed the notion that there are copious amounts of water to be found on the Moon. The research might be thought to have finally dashed hopes of mining lunar ice for cheap rocket fuel, but in fact President …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Am I Stoopid?

    "which seem to show the presence of noticeable amounts of hydrogen - theorised to be present as part of water molecules "

    I'm no chemist but even I know that hydrogen appears in molecules other than water.

    How does the boffin brain work? Is it just a case of saying: We can see what appears to be hydrogen, we want it to be water so we will assume it's water? Or am I (and this article) missing some subtleties in their reasoning.

    1. Chemist

      Re : Am I Stoopid?

      Thing about hydrogen in water is that it can rapidly equilibrate whereas hydrogen in say methane stays attached to the same carbon for a much longer time.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's a simplification

      This boils down (ahem) to the fact that so far as rocks are concerned hydrogen is almost always there because they've been in contact with water during their formation. Lunar rocks are almost all igneous rocks that have crystallised from a melt, so if you find hydrogen in the minerals, you know there was water dissolved in the magma. Here on Earth, dissolved water can account for several percent of magma by volume. As magma cools, the water can either be ejected from the solidifying rock, or it can be incorporated by created hydrous minerals such as hornblende, micas and serpentinite.

      What's unusual about lunar rocks is that they are almost entirely made up from anhydrous minerals making it very likely there was no water circulating when they were crystallising. The current results have come to a similar conclusion through a different means.

      Lack of water on the Moon is quite significant as it helps support a theory that the Moon began life as an extremely hot object - far hotter than would be normal for its size - suggesting it was created by a massive impact on the Earth. It also helps geologists work out the rate the Moon solidified and perhaps if the lunar interior is still molten. Water dissolved into magma dramatically reduces the melting point of the rock. If there isn't any in the lunar Mantle it makes it highly unlikely that the interior contains any molten rock and that makes it even less likely that there is any ongoing, or even (geologically speaking) recent vulcanism.


      1. Eastander
        Thumb Up

        Comets not 'dirty snowballs' then

        Presumably similar reasoning could be used to show that comets are not 'dirty snowballs', but are also dry-as-a-bone lumps of rock flying through variable strenghs of solar wind as they approach and recede from the sun in their highly elliptical orbits.

  2. envmod

    should know

    having allegedly BEEN to the Moon and stood on it several times, surely we should know this already?

    unless, of course, we haven't been there....


    1. David Stever

      Yeah, because the entire earth is like Yellowstone Park

      We've been to six points on the Moon, and the rest of the bloody thing is EXACTLY like those places. Anyone landing on Earth at the Old Faithful Geyser would have a wonderful notion as to what conditions on Earth, with it's steam vents, and forests, and wild animals.

      Back atcha, mate!

  3. Charles King

    No H2O for yuo!

    Damn those speccy spoilsports! They're just jealous 'cause astronauts get all the girls.

    OTOH, the Apollo landing sites were clustered around equatorial latitudes, so there's still the possibility that the situation near the poles is different.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wrong end of the stick

    Sorry Lewis, this changes nothing about the possibility of mining ice at the Lunar poles.

    This research has nothing to do with asteroidal or cometary water on the Moon; it's to do with primordial composition of the Moon's Mantle where the lunar basalts originated. Essentially they were asking the question 'was water present when the Moon was largely molten?'

    And the answer appears to be 'no'. It confirms what has long been suspected - the lunar interior doesn't seem to contain much dissolved water - unlike the Earth. It also helps support the theory that the Moon was formed when something about the size of Mars hit a partially differentiated protoEarth, splashing off a lot of the less-dense, metal poor Mantle and whacked up the temperature to the point that anything with a low vapourisation point was boiled away. Since Apollo brought back lunar samples there's been quite a lot of evidence that the Moon was water-poor and had a high temperature origin, this helps confirm it.

    There might well be ice at the poles or at isolated places in the regolith, but that will have arrived later in comets rather than come up from below.

  5. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    Fuel from ice in space

    Why not send a robotic spacecraft, with solar-powered ion engines to the asteroid belt, locate a suitably large icy asteroid, attach said spacecraft to asteroid and push it into the vicinity of the Earth, using portions of it as reaction mass. If then required, great big chunks of this could be dropped into the lunar gravity well ready for use down there if required. More importantly, this would provide a source of ice for the solar production of hydrogen/oxygen fuel in Earth orbit. Any serious interplanetary expeditions would have to be built in orbit and fueled there anyway. The robotic spacecraft could then be reused to fetch more ice, etc.

    1. Tony S

      Life mirroring fiction

      There was an SF story (Asimov?) that had this particular theme at it's core. It wasn't the moon though, but Mars they wanted to colonise.

      They didn't use robotic landers in the story, but humans - well it's more heroic that way. But the basic principle is sound.

      It's also worth thinking that some of the other minerals in the asteroid belt might be of use. Yes they would be expensive to mine at first, but once the infrastructure is in place, the price would come down.

    2. frank ly

      Oh No!

      " ... attach said spacecraft to asteroid and push it into the vicinity of the Earth,..."

      Why did I feel a shiver of fear as I read that part?

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        @frank ly

        You felt the shiver of fear because you didn't think it through. A great big ball of ice, say at most a dozen kilometres in circumference is a whacking amount of fuel. It’s also an enormous pain in the rear to de orbit from wherever it is and park it anywhere near earth. Go up much bigger than a dozen or so kilometres and you are getting hundreds of years past our current technology. (As it is, even at a dozen kilometres, there would be about 30 years of R&D required before the first attempt.)

        The thing is, a dozen kilometres of ice doesn’t mean anything to earth. If you miss with a ball that size, it will completely vaporise before hitting the surface. We’re not even talking about Tunguska here. We’re talking nice fireball in the sky followed by an interesting cloud of vapour. Now without an atmosphere, the moon would be at risk. Drop a dozen-kilometre ice ball into the surface and watch the kinetic energy both vaporise all of the ice and turn a sizable chunk of the surface into a shiny new (molten) crater. I don’t know how long it would take that crater to solidify, but given there’s no atmosphere to absorb the heat; I suspect it would be quite some time. (Radiative transmission and absorption of heat by the surrounding rock being the only methods of shedding the heat.)

        So in short: you could do that in such a way as it would pose almost no risk to Earth, but I wouldn’t want to be living on a moon base when that sucker came by. (Not to mention the damage it could do to the cloud of Earth-orbiting debris we keep launching up there.)

        The best solution is not to drop it onto the moon or even to attempt to park it in Earth orbit. The best solution is to drop fuel asteroids like this into the Lagrange points. They are stable places to leave things lying around, and currently largely unoccupied. This is not a difficult thing to do. Send a big-ish robot to some random iceball. Try to smack into it with as much force as you can muster, and have what amounts to an MCV pop out of the crater. (The impact hopefully being in the direction you want the asteroid to go. No sense wasting the kinetic energy you build up getting there.) The MCV deploys, uses some of the water for reaction mass on hall thrusters and deploys as big a solar sail as we can pack into the thing. It might take 50 years to move that asteroid, but at least we could do it safely.

  6. Joe K
    Dead Vulture

    WTF is this horseshit?

    So over the past year, actual fucking satellites orbiting the thing are reporting water-aplenty, and some tosser with some half-century old rocks taken from an especially plain part of the moon says "no water there".

    Just a few days ago the LRO saw about 600 MILLION tons of pure water buried in the dark craters of the poles.

    But yeah, lets listen to the guy with a few old rocks who is quickly becoming obsolete and needs grant money.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Commentards ...

      It's the same old story:

      1. Reputable scientist has paper published in reputable scientific journal.

      2. Reg journalist gives very rough summary of it.

      3. Reg commentards, who haven't read the actual paper, let alone the other papers that it refers to in its bibliography, all leap in to say the scientist must be an idiot because he hasn't thought of X, Y and Z.

      Now, who are the idiots in this story?

  7. Joe K
    Thumb Down

    For shame El Reg

    Judging from Google News it seems everyone is going with the "THE MOON IS BONE DRY!" story.

    A moments reading shows that this *geological* study is one that looks into the formation of the moon billions of years ago. No water around then as earth got it all.

    So no water INSIDE the moon, millions or even billions of tons are on the moons surface and being mapped by NASA right now.

    Utterly pointless article that seems to be fooling many.

    1. David Stever

      Reading the damned report

      Yeah, I'm with you on this. Earth was formed with water in just about every damned mineral, which means nothing to us looking for a few pounds / kilos / tons of water when we get there over the next decade. The heart of the moon is likely as dry as Bush Family episode of Jeopardy, but on the surface, where we'll be, there appears to be water measured in megatons. This article would appear to be preaching to the choir, but the news releases of the past six months are where I'm at right now, trying to figure out what we need to do to get to it. Somewhere down the road, we might need to harvest some tiny asteroids for additional water and mineral resources, but we're decades from needing that technology to supplement what is there now.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who cares

    No money to go to the moon anyway. Nothing there and whilst I realise the human population is spiralling out of control it hasnt quite reached the point of shooting them off to live on the moon.....

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Keynes' General Theory of Moon Conquest

      But you could put banks (central and otherwise) up there, fully roboticized. They could churn out a new currency, the "lunar", made by cooking moondust into small platelets using abundant solar energy. The conversion rate could be set to dollar parity.

      Having all these inaccessible dollars lying around on the moon would make moon expeditions instantly interesting as world and dog would try to lay claim on the newly created riches!

      I think I'm on to something. Anybody know the phone number of Peaceprez O' and Bernanke?

  9. Anonymous Coward


    Any amount of water could have arrived on the moon via collisions long after the rocks used for this study were formed.

    Not to mention that the rock in question was from the are least likely to have any, what with being in strong sunlight for half of the last 4 billion years.

  10. Daniel 1

    I think Obama is simply aying things in order to avoid thinking about them

    Why Mars, or the asteroids, are seen as a more realistic option (when you are too broke to try for the Moon) is a little beyond me, but certainly, the asteroids are a given, if you are thinking about Mars.

    Riding on (or, more probably, in) an near-earth asteroid such as 3753 Cruithne is probably the only realistic means by which anyone will get to Mars in the foreseeable future: it is the only type of object that could easily hold the sort of shielding from solar flare activity - like that of last week - which would inevitably have killed the occupants of any sort of normal space vessel. In fact, the likelihood of a lethal radiation event occurring within the time frames required to travel both to and from Mars using a rocket, make any such journey far too hazardous to be worth contemplating. Take the crew, or take the radiation shielding needed to keep them alive: pick one.

    Even so, going to one of these asteroids will be a major undertaking, in itself. For instance, at it's closest approach, Cruithne (which, at 5 kilometers long, and locked in a well-synchronized orbit, with the earth, is probably the most likely candidate for a Mars trip) is still more than 12 times as far away, as the Moon - and moving rather faster.

    Furthermore, Cruithne will not be making any useful rendezvous, with Mars, for another 48 years, and even then, the trip from the asteroid, to the Mars surface, will be another 9 million miles (assuming someone is aboard, to attempt the journey in 2058). The travelers will then probably have to sit on Mars for some years before another useful approach by the asteroid will occur, in order to allow them to return.

    Given all these factors, I cannot see why you would not want to go to the Moon and back, a few times, before attempting it, since this would give considerable practice in using rockets outside of the Earth's protective magnetic shield (thus providing some insight into whether rockets will ever provide a viable means of deep space travel). It could also provide experience in surviving for prolonged periods on an alien world - an almost inevitable prerequisite of any trip to Mars (however you imagine getting there). At this time, no one has even attempted to survive the Moon's lunar night time, on the surface: that's 100 kelvins (-173 degrees C) at the equator.

    Too much Star Trek has meant people underestimate how difficult this 'space' stuff really is. Maybe the world's public need reeducating in just how much of an achievement, something represents, before deciding whether it is worth doing? It's either that, or dwindle into extinction, playing Eve Online, and watching David Cameron films about how rotten we'd all be if we actually did get out there.

    1. Beryllium Urchin

      Which Cameron?

      I know that film about blue people, but surely not by David Cameron? Or are you thinking of 'Avatory'?

      1. Daniel 1

        Hmm, indeed

        I'm sure David Cameron would have made a far nastier film... Hoards of blue aliens, assisted by a menagerie of, apparently docile, but plug-ugly, orange pets, descends on otherwise peaceful planet and initiates a series of savage spending cuts and budget reviews. Natives get evicted from the their council houses and forced to live, communally, in one large, and rather crowded, tree.

        Hollywood would throw it out, as being too implausible, however.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Isn't that why Obama said it needs a bit more thought?

      Instead of just rehashing Apollo at great cost for the terrestrial employment opportunities and to keep politicians happy in states with significant space-related industry, Obama suggested NASA gets back to developing useful technologies for a long-term mission out of the gravity well, and let a private sector space industry develop to exploit LEO.

      You might have to wait longer (I want my space holiday too!) but isn't that better than the plan Cowboy George got out of his Ladybird Book of Space Things?

  11. Keith Williams

    no ice mining?

    In any case, we already know that the moon is a harsh mistress.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    I don't understand...

    So there's no hydrogen/water in the rock of the moon, so no ice mining... that I get.

    I just didn't think that there was any rock on the moon - it's all made of cheese, isn't it? Does this story have any impact on cheese-mining?

    Now, where did I put those crackers?

    1. Alex Wells


      As this is a serious technical article, you could have at least looked this up...

      Chemical formula for cheese:

      (Na,Ca) (Mg,Li,Al,Fe2+,Fe3+)3 (Al,Mg,Cr)6 B3 Si6 (OH,O,F)4

      A lack of Hydrogen would surely produce an inferior cheese, not even worth one American health service to get there.

      ... any chance of a new unit of measurement for that?

  13. basaltboy

    Commentards are correct

    Sorry, but most of the posts have this right. Published paper massively overplays its own significance (I have read it, and I am a geologist who works in this field). Previous research was based on direct measurements of water in lunar glasses (recovered Apollo material) published in 2008 by Saal. The interesting thing that this chap did was to calculate/estimate what the original water content of the magma must have been prior to eruption...answer is rather terrestrial. This was completely unexpected, and upset many people (largely because the authors were not part of the small cohort who had previously monopolised lunar research). Subsequent work has shown these findings to be correct. One of the reasons that no water was found in lunar rocks is that everyone had assumed the moon was bone dry. New analysis of apatite from lunar rocks (a mineral which can, but does not always contain water) shows that some lunar rocks do contain water. This new paper is based on isotope analysis of a related system, and appears to contradict presence of water in the lunar interior. The most obvious explanation is that our understanding of this isotope system is flawed...not suprising as there are important differences between the chemistry of the moon and Earth. Unfortunately you have a much better chance of getting published in Nature or Science if you say something controversial...hence "moon is bone dry and contains absolutely no water". The authors are even attempting to get as much publicity as possible by saying that the moon is too dry to have ever supported life.....quite who ever suggested otherwise is beyond me (not read any Jules Verne for a while). Academic prostitution at its best.

  14. E 2

    Variables, and the Boffin Brain

    1. There might be water frozen at the poles despite there never having been oceans of it to mix up the chlorine isotopes.

    2. The moon rocks were not AFAIK taken from the poles.

    3. IIRC the entire surface of the moon is beaten up by impacts, thus where exactly did the tested samples come from?


    The Boffin Brain, when confronted with inconclusive evidence or ambiguous models, is no different from the Humanities or Sociologist-type brain. Thus some Boffins will produce what are essentially opinion pieces and present same as scientific analysis, rather like the Humanities or Soc-types are constrained to do. Boffins are humans too...

    This is my analysis, speaking as a technologist, having dealt with a lot of Boffins and also a lot of the other types.

  15. E 2

    @Ian 45

    Indeed. The cost of shooting people off to the moon is astronomical (hehe).

    However I know some people who ought to be merely shot: career politicians, warlords, some recent USA executive branch office holders, most of Wall Street... let's start a list.

  16. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    The rocks are not a comprehensive survey of lunar geology

    Just the stuff you could pick up in walking (or driving) range of the Apollo lunar modules.

    This did *not* include *any* polar locations.

    Or heavily shadowed craters.

    So if you test rocks which aren't likely to have *any* water in to begin with found in locations which will cook out any that did exist over 1000s of years you should not be *too* surprised if you don't find any.

    Just a thought.

  17. Abremms

    no water on the moon? theres a fix for that!

    giant water cannon, imo. SUPER-supersoaker. it would be fusion powered, obviously. we have plenty of water here on earth, im sure we can spare a couple billion gallons to moisten the moon.

  18. basaltboy

    water on the Earth

    As pointed out, there is a big difference between reports of water in lunar rocks (parts per million level, similar to the deep interior of the Earth) and ice in craters, which is much more recent (post-formation of the Moon). Current theory holds that the moon formed following collision of a Mars-sized object with the Earth, which likely led to the formation of a magma ocean on both moon and Earth (the outer part of both bodies was fully molten). Our model for the formation of the moon was thought to preclude the fact that water could have been incorporated in this lunar magma ocean. Where this water could have come from is puzzling. Perhaps the trace amounts of water were incorporated into a newly formed moon from colliding comets, small icy bodies etc.....this might also be the source of water on the surface of the Earth. Whilst important, the whole argument regarding water in lunar rocks is somewhat divorced from anything practical. Any water present on the surface is from comets etc that has remained protected from the sun in craters, mainly at the poles.

  19. Adrian Esdaile

    There is no water

    But there is all the cheese you can eat!

  20. Anonymous Coward

    "heavily shadowed areas"

    What, like the dark side of the moon?

    Why didn't anyone say? Just go ask Pink Floyd...

    Yep, mine's the one with the moon rocks in it.

    Ok, I'll stop now...

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Ahem, but didn't the Dead Sea Scrolls say...

    ...that the moon is made of bleu cheese? Isn't there a lot of moisture content in blue cheese, after all? Surely we could manufacture millions upon gagillions of fondue rockets, to fuel our way to Pluto and beyond, even to the secret planet of Nostradomicus where our fate awaits ....

    Sorry, folks, seem to have lost my head in getting silly about some things.... Enjoy?

  22. Hop_David

    Polar water comes from comet, not magma

    The absence of water in magma does nothing to disprove the presence of polar ice.

    Polar ice is thought to be frozen out vapors from comet impacts accumulated over the eons.

    The article isn't merely stupid. It's blazingly stupid.

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