Nicole Karlis in Salon:
Though the moon was long considered a barren, inhospitable rocky world, researchers over the past few decades have found that the moon has many of the amenities that humans would need to build a self-sufficient habitat. Indeed, recent discoveries of plentiful water ice pockets on the moon tantalized scientists and space agencies. Now, a new finding suggests that there is plentiful carbon dioxide on the moon as well.
According to new research published in the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letter, scientists have confirmed the existence of lunar carbon dioxide “cold traps,” a geological anomaly in which carbon dioxide could collect for long periods and settle. This discovery will likely have a significant impact on future space exploration as humans — or robots — could use carbon dioxide or other organic materials in the cold traps as fuel, convert it to oxygen, or use it in lunar greenhouses for growing plants.
In astronomy, a cold trap refers to a pocket on the surface of a solid body in which volatile gases can accrue and remain still for long periods, often millions of years. Because many planets and bodies in the solar system, the moon included, lack a significant atmosphere, any unlit area can remain at frigid temperatures for thousands or even millions of years. In that span, gases like carbon dioxide can accumulate and sometimes freeze in sufficient quantities, hence the term “cold trap.” Carbon dioxide freezes at -109° Fahrenheit or -78° Celsius; the temperature on the Moon in the shade or at night is cooler than that, around -298° F (or -183° C) or even colder in some regions.