Tokyo: Scientists have found a mineral in a lunar meteorite that points to the presence of abundant hidden reserves of water ice under the surface of the Moon, which could be potentially useful for future human exploration.

A team from the Tohoku University in Japan found the mineral, called moganite, in a lunar meteorite discovered in a desert in northwest Africa.

Moganite, a crystal of silicon dioxide, is known to form on Earth in specific circumstances in sedimentary settings from alkaline fluids. It has never before been detected in samples of lunar rock.

Researchers believe the mineral formed on the surface of the Moon in the area called Procellarum Terrane, as water originally present in lunar dirt evaporated due to exposure to strong sunlight. “For the first time, we can prove that there is water ice in the lunar material," said Masahiro Kayama from Tohoku University, who led the study.

“In a moganite, there is less water, because moganite forms from the evaporation of water. That’s the case on the surface of the Moon. But in the subsurface, much water remains as ice, because it’s protected from the sunlight," Kayama told ‘’.

Scientists already knew that there is water on the moon. For example, Nasa’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite detected a shadowed crater near the Moon’s south pole.

India’s probe Chandrayaan-1 recorded evidence of water in the thin atmosphere above the Moon’s surface. However, there has been no evidence so far of the presence of water in the subsurface at mid and lower latitudes, according to Kayama.

“Many people think that remote-sensing spacecraft only found the evidence of water around the poles simply because we can’t see under the surface below a few millimetres," Kayama said. “This is the first insight into water in the subsurface zone," he said.

The researchers estimate that the water content in the lunar soil under the surface could be up to 0.6%. If that is right, future Moon explorer could theoretically extract about 1.6 gallons of water per 36 cubic feet of lunar rock, Kayama said.

“It would be enough for future astronauts and people that could perhaps live on the Moon in the future to extract enough water to cover their needs," he said.