A team of researchers suggests there is way more water on the surface of the moon than previously thought. That could mean a lot for future missions there.

So experts from the University of California believe craters on the lunar surface could keep the liquid frozen and out of reach from the Sun’s heat.

The team analyzed data from NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft that orbited Mercury for four years. So they compared shaded areas protected from the Sun on Mercury with similar shadowed craters on the Moon. Therefore they concluded that ice deposits, sometimes several meters thick, could survive inside shadowed craters near the Moon’s south pole.

The water probably lies in craters formed by meteor strikes. There are about 12,000 craters on the moon under the shadow. According to the new research published in the journal Nature Geoscience, these craters could store vast amounts of water.

Dana Hurley, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said: ”This research is telling us that meteoroids are doing some of the work for us and transporting material from the coldest places to some of the boundary regions where astronauts can access it with a solar-powered rover.

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Since the Moon lacks an atmosphere, the water on the craters is exposed to incoming meteor impacts and ionized gases from the Sun known as the solar wind. Erosion then moves the water particles outside the crater, and spacecraft such as NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter can spot it.

“People think of some areas in these polar craters as trapping water and that’s it,” said William M. Farrell, research lead, said in a statement. “But there are solar wind particles and meteoroids hitting the surface, and they can drive reactions that typically occur at warmer surface temperatures. That’s something that’s not been emphasized.”

However, it’s unlikely we’ll learn precisely how much water lies in these shadowed lunar craters until we send astronauts to see it for themselves.

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