Researchers have finally found direct evidence of water ice at the darkest, coldest regions of the moon’s poles.

The available source of water, NASA suggests, might make it easier for future lunar expeditions to explore and even stay on the Moon. It exists in sparse patches in the north and is concentrated in permanently shadowed craters in the south. Temperatures there never climb above minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

A team of scientists, led by Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii and Brown University Richard Elphic from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley made the discovery possible. They analyzed data obtained by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument aboard Chandrayaan-1, an Indian launched in 2008. They identified three chemical “signatures” that proved the presence of water ice, as opposed to liquid water or water vapor.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory designed and built the moon mineralogy mapper instrument and was home to its project manager.

Previous observations had suggested there could be surface ice at the moon’s south pole. However, scientists could not confirm whether these observations had merely picked up unusually reflective soil.

Now, the researchers believe that if there is enough ice sitting at the surface of the moon, the water could be accessible as a resource for expeditions.

“Learning more about this ice, how it got there, and how it interacts with the larger lunar environment will be a key mission focus for NASA and commercial partners, as we endeavor to return to and explore our closest neighbor, the Moon,” NASA wrote on their website.

Researchers have published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Thumbnail image: The image shows the distribution of surface ice at the Moon’s south pole (left) and north pole (right). NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument detected it. Credit: NASA