China discovers strange glass beads on moon that may contain billions of tons of water

Scientists examined soil samples returned by China's Chang'e-5 spacecraft and discovered water encased in glass spherules on the moon.

According to a recent study, Chinese researchers may have found billions of tons of water within odd glass spheres buried on the moon. These spheres might one day serve as a water supply for lunar outposts.

The new analysis, which was published on March 28 in the journal Nature Geoscience, suggests that the tiny glass spherules, which were found in lunar soil samples and will be returned to Earth by China's Chang'e-5 mission in December 2020, may be so numerous that they can hold up to 330 billion tons (300 billion metric tons) of water across the moon's surface.

When meteorites strike the moon at speeds of tens of thousands of miles per hour and eject pieces of lunar crust above the moon's surface, glass spherules, also known as impact glasses or microtektites, develop. Silicate minerals heated to molten temperatures by the force of the impact mix inside these plumes to produce small glass beads that are dispersed across the surrounding terrain like crumbs.

The soil of the moon contains oxygen, thus the beads also do. The oxygen in the molten spheres reacts to produce water that is pulled into the silicate capsules when it comes into contact with ionized hydrogen atoms (protons) from the solar wind. Some of the spheres eventually become buried in regolith, the lunar dust particles, and become imprisoned below with the water still inside.

The water is released by some of these beads into the moon's atmosphere and onto its surface at the proper temperatures, operating as a reservoir that is gradually refilled over time, according to the researchers. For space agencies like NASA and the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) that aim to establish bases on the moon, this may make these spheres a perfect supply of water as well as hydrogen and oxygen. The CSNSA anticipates finishing its lunar base project as early as 2029.

"For future lunar exploration, we must first collect the impact glass beads, cook them in an oven, and then cool the water vapor that is generated. Ultimately, a bottle of liquid water will be sent to you "Sen Hu, a planetary geologist at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the study's co-author, told Live Science via email. Another advantage is the prevalence of impact glass beads in lunar soils, which occur uniformly and worldwide from east to west and from equator to pole.

The fifth in a series of missions designed to set the framework for future manned lunar landings, China's Chang'e 5 mission was named after a Chinese goddess of the moon. Before returning to Earth in December 2020, the expedition made a landing on the moon and began collecting material from its surface.