Extracting Water from Lunar Soil – Learning about filtration and distillation

Brief description:

In this resource, students will learn about changes of state of matter using water on the Moon as an example.

They will interpret data from a pressure vs. temperature graph for water to enable a discussion about how changes of state are different on the Moon compared to what we are used to on Earth.

They will then compare two methods for separating mixtures, in the context of extracting water from lunar soil.

They will be given pre-prepared lunar soil analogue blocks and compare simple distillation to filtration and decide which is most efficient on Earth and on the Moon.
Subject: Science, Chemistry, Physics
Learning Objectives

  • Learn how changes of state vary depending on pressure and temperature.
  • Understand changes of state in terms of the particle model.
  • Learn to use distillation equipment to separate mixtures.
  • Use filtration to separate mixtures.
  • Carry out experiments appropriately, having due regard for the correct manipulation of apparatus, the accuracy of measurements and health and safety considerations.
  • Evaluate methods and suggest possible improvements and further investigations.
  • Interpret percentages and percentage changes as a fraction or a decimal.
    Age range:
    12 – 16 years old
    Preparation: 30 minutes
    Lesson: 1 hour and 20 minutes
    Resource available in:
    Activity 1: Is water different on the Moon?

    In this activity, students will investigate the water states and water phase transitions. Students will analyse the phase diagram for water and conduct a simple experiment to learn that pressure and temperature affect the state of water.

    Lastly, students will relate what they learn to Moon exploration and how water might be extracted from regolith on the Moon.

  • Printed student worksheet for each student
  • Syringe
  • Hot water
  • Activity 2: Filtration or distillation?

    In this activity, students will compare two methods of separating water from sand: filtration and distillation. They will be given simulated lunar ice/soil cores to use in their experiment and calculate the percentage mass of water extracted in each case.

    For each group:  
  • Printed student worksheets
  • Pre-prepared ice-cores (see Annex)
  • Weighing scales
  • Sand and water
  • Test-tube packaging or similar
  • 2 conical flasks
  • 2 measuring cylinders
  • Filter
  • Funnel
  • Bunsen burner or hotplate/boiling ring
  • Tripod
  • Bung with hole for plastic/rubber tubing
  • Large tin with a hole in the side
  • Ice cubes (for cooling the tubes)
  • Small piece of copper tubing (Optional – improves cooling)
  • Did you know?

    Astronauts on the International Space Station recycle most of the water that they use – about 75%. The Water Recovery System can recover water from astronaut’s urine and from their breath. This is filtered and cleaned and can be used again. On average, an astronaut on the International Space Station uses 90% less water than that of a person on Earth.

    ESA Astronaut Tim Peake swallows water on the ISS