NASA has announced the discovery of water on the sunlit surface of the moon, indicating that the presence of water molecules are not limited to its cold and shadowed environments but may be present across the lunar surface.
The space agency said on Tuesday that its Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has detected water molecules in Clavius Crater, one of the moon’s largest craters in its southern hemisphere. It explained that previous studies on the lunar surface detected some form of hydrogen but were unable to distinguish if it’s water or its close chemical relative, hydroxyl.
The discovery found water “in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million – roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water – trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread across the lunar surface.”
“We had indications that H2O – the familiar water we know – might be present on the sunlit side of the Moon,” said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Now we know it is there. This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about resources relevant for deep space exploration.”
NASA noted that despite the small amounts, “the discovery raises new questions about how water is created and how it persists on the harsh, airless lunar surface.”
“Water is a valuable resource, for both scientific purposes and for use by our explorers,” said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “If we can use the resources at the Moon, then we can carry less water and more equipment to help enable new scientific discoveries.”
SOFIA is a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft that astronomers use to study the lunar surface in lieu of ground-based telescopes. The modified Boeing 747SP jetliner has a 106-inch diameter telescope and can fly at altitudes of up to 45,000 feet.