Five quick questions answered about finding water on the Moon

Katie Ramirez
January 15, 2021

This illustration highlights Clavius Crater on the Moon with an illustration depicting water trapped in the lunar soil there, along with an image of SOFIA.

The discovery was made using Sofia, the world's largest flying observatory, NASA said.

For SOFIA, a telescope that flies inside of a modified 747 jet airliner, at heights of up to 45,000 feet, this was the first time it was used to take observations of the Moon.

Paul Hertz, director of the astrophysics department at the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., said: "Our indications are that we know that the known water we know may be on the lunar side of the sun".

A paper published today in Nature Astronomy reported that water is present in the Moon's high southern latitudes, likely stored in glass or between grains on the lunar surface, to "protect it from the harsh environment".

A research team led by Casey Honniball of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center analyzed the spectral characteristics of the infrared light in the 6-micron band, and identified a chemical signature that can be found only in molecular water rather than in hydrated minerals. So when future lunar explorers want to return to Earth, or travel on to other destinations, they could turn the water into the hydrogen and oxygen commonly used to power space vehicles. Those collisions provide the heat to convert hydroxyl molecules to water molecules, but those molecules are then entrained within microscopically small glass beads also created by the collisions.

Water ice may be more prevalent on the surface of the moon that previously thought, but that discovery appears unlikely to have any near-term effect on NASA's lunar exploration plans. That's above 99.9% of atmospheric water vapor-helpful, as even a little vapor blocks some frequencies, leaving earthbound telescopes blind in certain parts of the infrared spectrum. Nearly all of that water, they note, would be locked in shadowed areas between grains of lunar soil, or trapped in glassy materials created when micrometeorites smacked the lunar surface.

Based on previous studies of the moon's surface conditions, the researchers say the water detected by SOFIA nearly certainly "resides within the interior of lunar grains, or is trapped between grains shielded from the harsh lunar environment". But before now, scientists were not able to distinguish in what form the water was present. "Many of those tiny shadows could be full of ice".

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"I think we should build a permanent human settlement on one of the poles of the moon", Bezos said back in 2017.

The scientists estimate around 40,000 square kilometres of lunar surface near the poles could have ice.

NASA has discovered water on the sunward-facing surface of the moon, according to a live teleconference event that streamed live on the USA agency's website on Monday, Oct. 26 at 12:00 PM EDT.

"Water molecules were found in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth on the Moon!"

Massive craters close to the lunar south pole include Shackleton Crater, which is several miles deep and about 13 miles across.

"The temperatures are so low in cold traps that ice would behave like a rock", Hayne said. If water is as abundant as the new research suggests, the impetus for going - and staying - increases, but we're still a long way from being able to exploit those resources. They determined it's predominantly H2O that exists on the lunar surface, rather than hydroxyl. The data will add to the work of future Moon missions, such as NASA's Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), to create the first water resource maps of the Moon for future human space exploration.

Two astronauts - a man and a woman - will land at the lunar south pole by 2024 under what Nasa has called its Artemis programme.

These latest findings, nonetheless, expand the possible landing spots for robots and astronauts alike - "opening up real estate previously considered "off limits" for being bone dry", Hayne said in an email to The Associated Press.

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