Future lunar colonists shouldn't have too much trouble finding water: In a first, astronomers have discovered ice—specifically patches of frost—on the moon's north and south poles, in areas permanently shaded from the sun. Found by observing how molecules absorb infrared light, the ice is particularly concentrated in surface craters or "cold traps" around the south pole, where temperatures are a chilly -250 degrees Fahrenheit, Live Science reports via a PNAS study. It notes this is the first "direct and definitive evidence" of ice exposed on the moon's surface. Though water molecules were previously found, the ice deposits "might be utilized as an in-situ resource in future exploration of the moon," the study authors write, per the Guardian.
The ice could theoretically be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen needed for rocket fuel and to allow colonists to breathe, reports the BBC. Yet the ice isn't widespread, even at the poles. Just 3.5% of the shadowy areas scientists observed were found to contain ice, and none of the more recently formed craters had any. It's possible craters were exposed to sunlight as the moon's axis shifted more frequently over time than the axes of Mercury and the dwarf planet Ceres, where surface ice is more abundant, reports Space.com. It's also possible that impacts from meteorites disrupted the moon's ice supplies. Either way, the suggestion is that any lunar ice present is "very old, and is likely not replenished quickly," per Live Science. (Humans might live in a lunar lava tube.)