surface of the moon

China discovers strange glass beads on moon that may contain billions of tons of water

As we continue to deplete our water sources here on Earth, the search is on for sustainable sources of water elsewhere. It turns out the moon might have the answer. Not only that, if you’re looking for water on the moon, you don’t need to dig very deep. A new study shows that there are billions of tons of water-containing glass beads on the Moon just lying around waiting to be harvested.

China Discovers New Source of Water On The Moon

According to new research published on March 28 in the journal Nature Geoscience, tiny glass beads discovered on the moon’s surface could contain 330 billion tons (300 billion metric tons) of water across the lunar landscape. That’s enough water to fill 123 trillion average-sized swimming pools! But where exactly does all that water come from? (1)

The tiny glass spherules were collected by China during its Chang’e-5 mission in December 2020. After analyzing them in a lab, researchers found they contained between 0.1% and 1% water by weight—much more than previous estimates had suggested. The team also found that most of the beads were formed by impacts from meteorites—and not from volcanic activity as was previously thought.

Researchers believe that the beads are evidence of ancient impacts on the Moon. When a meteorite hits the Moon, its impact melts some of the surface materials and forms glass spherules. The molten material cools quickly, forming tiny glass beads that can persist for millions of years—until a later impact re-melts them again.

Image credit: Van Ginnekan, Genge and Harvey 2018, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta | via Live Science

But How Does That Create Water?

The beads are partially created with soil on the Moon. The soil on the moon contains oxygen, and therefore so do the beads. When these are struck by ionized hydrogen ions from solar wind, the oxygen that is inside those now molten spheres reacts to form water. That water is then sucked into the beads. Over time some of these beads get buried in lunar dust and are therefore trapped underground with water inside them.

The researchers say that some of these beads release water into the moon’s atmosphere and onto its surface over time. This acts as a reservoir that is slowly refilled over time. What does this mean for us? Well, first of all, it means building bases on the Moon is more feasible. This is because this reservoir could act as a source of not only water, but also hydrogen and oxygen for the astronauts.

“If we want to extract the water in impact glass beads for future lunar exploration, first we collect them, then boil them in an oven and cool the released water vapor. Finally, you will get some liquid water in a bottle,” explained study co-author Sen Hu, a planetary geologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Geology and Geophysics. “Another benefit is that impact glass beads are [common] in lunar soils, from equator to polar and from east to west, globally and evenly.”

Is It Actually Possible To Harvest Water From The Moon?

The scientists from the Chang’e-5 mission certainly seem to think so. They are realistic, however, in that doing so would not be a simple, easy task. The research team says that there are billions, if not trillions, of these beads on the Moon’s surface. Mining them, however, won’t be easy.

“Yes, it will require lots and lots of glass beads,” Hejiu Hui of Nanjing University, who took part in the study, said. “On the other hand, there are lots and lots of beads on the moon.” (2)

NASA is apparently currently aiming to put astronauts back on the Moon in 2025. This time, they’re aiming for the South Pole. In this pole exists permanently shadowed craters that they believe are impacted with frozen water. This could potentially be another source of Moon water. While an exciting discovery, researchers all agree that more studies need to be done to determine the feasibility of harvesting this water.

Keep Reading: The Moon Is Slowly Drifting Away From Earth


  1. China discovers strange glass beads on moon that may contain billions of tons of water.” Live Science  Ben Turner. March 2023.
  2. New source of water found in moon samples from China mission.” Marcia Dunn. April 2, 2023.