Cold pockets on moon’s surface should be ‘high-priority’ landing sites

19 Nov 2021

The lunar south pole. Image: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

The discovery of carbon dioxide cold traps on the moon could provide resources to sustain a human presence there.

Carbon dioxide cold traps have been found on the moon that could contain solid CO2.

These cold traps have been confirmed on the lunar south pole, which is permanently shadowed and has extremely cold temperatures.

Researchers analysed 11 years of temperature data from an instrument flying aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to find the coldest regions on the moon.

The lunar south pole is cold enough for ice to form, meaning carbon dioxide molecules could freeze and remain in solid form.

Explorers can use CO2 to make steel, rocket fuel and biological materials to stay on the moon for longer, making such cold traps important for future lunar missions.

NASA is planning to send astronauts to the south pole of the moon by 2025. They will make use of the moon’s natural resources in preparation for missions to Mars.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, confirmed the total area of carbon dioxide cold traps is 204 sq km, with the Amundsen crater holding 82 sq km of traps.

Although carbon dioxide cold traps have been predicted for years, this new study is the first to firmly establish and map their presence on the moon.

“I think when I started this, the question was, ‘Can we confidently say there are carbon dioxide cold traps on the moon or not?’” said lead author Norbert Schörghofe, a scientist at the Planetary Science Institute. “My surprise was that they’re actually, definitely there.”

Scientists can study these CO2 cold traps to understand the origins of water and how organic compounds form in harsh environments.

Carbon dioxide can be used as a tracer for the sources of water, to help scientists understand how it arrived on the moon and earth.

Paul Hayne, a planetary scientist who was not involved in the study, said that regions with carbon dioxide cold traps should be “high-priority sites” for future moon missions.

“This sort of pinpoints where you might go on the lunar surface to answer some of these big questions about volatiles on the moon and their delivery from elsewhere in the solar system,” he said.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic