For the first time in history, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has confirmed the presence of water on the moon’s sunlit surface, water molecules (H2O) were discovered in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth, located in the Moon’s southern hemisphere.
“We don’t know yet if we can use it as a resource,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, but he added that knowing more about the water is vital to the U.S plans to explore the moon.“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.”
“It was, in fact, the first time SOFIA has looked at the Moon, and we weren’t even completely sure if we would get reliable data, but questions about the Moon’s water compelled us to try,” said Naseem Rangwala, SOFIA’s project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “It’s incredible that this discovery came out of what was essentially a test, and now that we know we can do this, we’re planning more flights to do more observations.” “Data from this location reveal 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,” NASA added.
“This is not puddles of water but instead water molecules that are so spread apart that they do not form ice or liquid water,” said Casey Honniball, the lead author of a study about the discovery.
NASA experts are now trying to figure out exactly how the water came to form and how it got preserved.
“Without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface should just be lost to space,” said Honniball. “Yet somehow we’re seeing it. Something is generating the water, and something must be trapping it there.”
There are several probable theories about how water came to the moon, including the possibility that it was delivered to the surface by micrometeorites impacting the moon. Glass beads from that process could trap water, but the SOFIA instruments cannot distinguish between water held inside impact glasses and water trapped between grains and in voids, according to the researchers’ paper.
A joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, SOFIA is a modified Boeing 747 that can take its large telescope high into Earth’s atmosphere, at altitudes up to 45,000 feet. Those heights allow researchers to peer at objects in space with hardly any visual disruptions from water vapor.