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The Moon above Earth's atmosphere. Photo: NASA

Increased activity on the Moon could make it harder for scientists to study lunar ices that may hold clues to the origins of water in the solar system.

What's happening: With NASA's Artemis program and other space agencies aiming for the Moon, the lunar surface could become a very crowded place in the coming years. Scientists are now working to parse out any unintended consequences of that exploration.

Driving the news: A new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets found that water vapor emitted by spacecraft landing on the Moon could contaminate pristine ice thought to be billions of years old in shadowed craters.

  • Computer simulations revealed that water vapor exhaust released by a lander takes about three hours to be distributed around the Moon and about 30%–40% of the exhaust remained in the thin lunar atmosphere and on the surface for at least two months, according to the study.
  • Scientists expect about 20% of that vapor would freeze near the poles.

Between the lines: As more countries start aiming to send spacecraft and even people to the Moon, that exhaust could prove a challenge for scientists, however, the benefits of human exploration may outweigh worries about lunar exhaust.

  • If researchers know exactly what kind of exhaust is being emitted by these spacecraft, they should be able to correct for it when studying pristine ice, NASA lunar scientist Noah Petro, who wasn't involved in the new study, tells me.

Background: Scientists have been studying the possible effects of spacecraft exhaust on the Moon for years, and the lunar surface has already been contaminated by previous missions like Apollo.

  • “Exhaust during the Apollo mission didn’t complicate measurements in the same ways that it might now,” Parvathy Prem, an author of the new study said in a statement.
  • The Apollo missions were primarily focused on collecting rock samples, while today's scientists are interested in sampling ice and other volatile materials as well.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Nov 17, 2020 - Science

Where Europa's water lives

Europa. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

The plumes seen erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa might be fed by water trapped in the world's crust, according to a new study.

Why it matters: Europa is thought to be one of the best places to hunt for life in the solar system, in part because of the subsurface ocean scientists expect exists beneath its icy crust.

USAID chief tests positive for coronavirus

An Air Force cargo jet delivers USAID supplies to Russia earlier this year. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

The acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development informed senior staff Wednesday he has tested positive for coronavirus, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Barsa, who staffers say rarely wears a mask in their office, is the latest in a series of senior administration officials to contract the virus. His positive diagnosis comes amid broader turmoil at the agency following the election.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
3 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 shows a bright future for vaccines

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Promising results from COVID-19 vaccine trials offer hope not just that the pandemic could be ended sooner than expected, but that medicine itself may have a powerful new weapon.

Why it matters: Vaccines are, in the words of one expert, "the single most life-saving innovation ever," but progress had slowed in recent years. New gene-based technology that sped the arrival of the COVID vaccine will boost the overall field, and could even extend to mass killers like cancer.

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