Water is an essential resource for human missions in the universe, but transporting it from Earth is impractical due to its weight. Therefore, the focus is on extracting water locally, even in places like the moon. Recent research published in Acta Astronautica suggests that extracting water from the moon may be as simple as using a microwave oven.
While water is found in small amounts throughout the moon, it is most concentrated in the polar regions. These regions contain pockets of ice, resembling a mixture of snow and dusty sand particles. Extracting drinkable water from such material poses a challenge. Traditional methods like heating on a stove are ineffective due to the dryness of the material, resulting in uneven heating and a sludgy outcome.
Previous studies using simulated lunar material have shown that conventional conductive heating is not particularly efficient in extracting water. Scaling up this process to sustain a colony would require significant power, making it impractical. In the study mentioned, researchers explored the use of microwaves for water extraction.
By utilizing microwaves, researchers hope to overcome the limitations of traditional heating methods. This approach could provide a more efficient and scalable solution for extracting water from lunar ice.
Microwave ovens can sometimes yield uneven results when reheating food, leading to hot and cold spots or slightly damp areas. This is because water molecules within the material are strongly affected by the microwaves, causing them to shift, usually towards the surface. This characteristic of microwave cooking has long been known, prompting researchers to investigate its effectiveness in extracting water from lunar material.
In their study, the team focused on two simulated lunar materials: one representing the lunar highlands (LHS-1) and the other simulating the lunar mare region (LMS-1). They examined the efficiency of water extraction at different ice content percentages. The results revealed that using a specialized microwave oven with just 250 Watts of power, they were able to extract approximately 55% to 67% of the water within approximately 30 minutes. This level of efficiency proves practical for extracting ample water from the polar regions, and the microwave technology employed is both easy to construct and maintain on the moon. Interestingly, the method becomes less effective as the materials contain higher water content, with traditional conductive heating proving more efficient in such cases.
Source: Universe Today