There is water on the sunlit surface of the Moon, Nasa has announced.
The discovery suggests water may be distributed across the lunar surface, and not just limited to cold, shadowed areas. Nasa’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (Sofia) has detected water molecules (H2O) in a crater located on the moon’s southern hemisphere. The crater is so large that it is visible from Earth. Previous observations of the moon’s surface detected some form of hydrogen but were unable to distinguish whether it was water or its close chemical relative, hydroxyl (OH).
The researchers found water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million – roughly equivalent to a 350ml bottle of water – trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread across the lunar surface.
According to CNN, the research is based on data gathered by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, in orbit around the moon since June 2009, as well as the agency’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy airborne telescope, called SOFIA. The latter is a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified to carry a 2.7-meter telescope.
In the first study, researchers used SOFIA to observe the moon at a wavelength that revealed the signature of molecular water, or H2O. “For the first time, water has been confirmed to be present on the sunlit surface of the moon,” said Paul Hertz, director of the astrophysics division at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate during Monday’s press conference.
“We had indications that H2O — the familiar water we know — might be present on the sunlit side of the moon. 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.”
According to Nasa, despite the small amounts, the discovery raises new questions about how water is created and how it persists on the harsh, airless lunar surface. More SOFIA flights are planned in the future to follow up on this discovery and look for water in more sunlit spots on the moon. This will help researchers determine how exactly the water is created, stored and moves across the lunar surface.
Understanding these processes of water on the moon will help NASA best determine how to extract that water for use as a resource. And NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, will create the first water resource maps of the moon for future human space exploration once it lands on the lunar surface in 2022.