The Moon has been described by Buzz Aldrin as "magnificent desolation" but scientists have shown that there is a lot more on its surface than meets the eye. In the last few years, researchers have found water ice located in cold traps and many other substances in its soil such as oxygen, which could be useful in the human exploration of our natural satellite.
Now researchers have confirmed that carbon dioxide cold traps are also present on the Moon. They are located in the same cold traps that have water ice around the Lunar South Pole. In that region, there are craters that never see the light of the Sun, keeping the temperature so low that water and carbon dioxide remain solid.
“After water, carbon is probably the most important resource on the Moon. It can be used for the production of rocket fuel, but also for biomaterials and steel. If we have to bring carbon or fuel from Earth, it drives up the cost of sustained presence. It's part of ‘living off the land,’ or in-situ resource utilization,” lead author Norbert Schorghofer, from the Planetary Science Institute, said in a statement.
The traps mean that in those permanently shadowed craters, carbon dioxide in solid form can exist. The work hasn’t confirmed that there is carbon dioxide in those traps yet, although carbon dioxide has previously been seen on the Moon.
“Extensive and improved analysis of 11 years of orbital surface temperature measurements by the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment on board NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter establishes the existence of carbon dioxide cold traps on the Moon, which potentially host high concentrations of solid carbon dioxide,” Schorghofer said.
“Our work has established the existence of carbon dioxide cold traps, where theory predicts solid carbon dioxide should have accumulated. Our work does not show that there actually is carbon dioxide in these areas, but it is a reasonable expectation, especially since carbon dioxide was detected in the LCROSS (NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) impact plume in 2009.”
The Artemis program led by NASA with international cooperation, envision a human return to the Moon around 2025 (following spacesuit delays and Bezos taking NASA to court), and the China National Space Administration also plans human lunar exploration by the end of this decade.
The southern region of the Moon is being eyed as a potential location for permanent bases by space agencies across the world. The availability of resources like water and carbon dioxide would be key in such endeavors.