NASA found traces of water on moon; report published in Nature Astronomy

Tanya Simon
October 28, 2020

While water on the moon has been suspected for several decades, and multiple lunar missions have gathered data that pointed to its presence, definitive proof had eluded us until now. This is part of the NASA Artemis program, whose Phase 1 plans, revealed in September 2020, include landing the first woman as well as the next man on the lunar surface in 2024. Although much of it is trapped in glass beads, regolith, or is hiding in deep shadows, it is there.

The discoveries, presented in separate studies in the journal Nature Astronomy, may have direct implications for future Moon missions.

The discovery was confirmed thanks to the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). The large crater is visible from Earth. "We think this is revolutionary in terms of what will be possible for astronauts on the moon".

That H2O can make infrared observations hard.

It would be a lot handier if there were significant amounts of water on what amounts to the more temperate parts of the moon: the near and far sides where any one spot is brilliantly lit for two full weeks out of every month.

After NASA's announcement, Twitter's official account wrote,"If the moon can hydrate so can you". The moon, as we know it, was supposed to be an arid mass orbiting our H2O-rich planet. Using its Faint Object infraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST), SOFIA could pick up the specific wavelength unique to water molecules, at 6.1 microns, and discovered a relatively surprising concentration in sunny Clavius Crater. That's 20% more area than previous estimates, he said, adding that temperatures are as low as minus 261 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 163 degrees Celsius) in these so-called cold traps that they could hold onto the water for millions or even billions of years. This protects it from the harsh external environment.

First, the discovery is important because it is the first time water has been present in the sunlight area of the moon.

"Without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface should just be lost to space". Yet somehow, we see it.

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Researchers say there are a few reasons water is trapped in the soil.

The researchers suggest that Water was created by the impact of meteorites popping against the surface of the moon. The team found little hydroxyl around Clavius crater, and they propose impacts by micrometeorites can help mobilize the hydrogen and oxygen atoms, turning them into water.

Where has water been found on the moon before? "Something is generating the water, and something must be trapping it there". The new study finds that there are also abundant small cold traps where conditions permit water ice to accumulate - on the scale of centimetres or decimetres.

Scientists were able to spot water on the moon for the first time.

"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.

This is an interesting juxtaposition to planetary bodies like Ceres and Mars, which have large, continuous areas of ice around the poles.

Hayne says, "If we're right, water is going to be more accessible for drinking water, rocket fuel, everything that NASA needs water for".

"Just because a region is in permanent shadow doesn't mean there is ice in it", says O'Neill. Paul Hayne from the University of Colorado, Boulder, has mapped out cold regions on the moon where he thinks ice is most likely to be located. Astronauts and lunar rovers will need to manually dig it out before it can be used.

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