NASA discovers water molecules on sunlit surface of the Moon

Space Coast, FL – Today, NASA has announced they discovered water molecules on the sunlit surface of the moon. The discovery was made in Clavius Crater by SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy).

An illustration that highlights: Moon’s Clavius Crater; an illustration depicting water trapped in the lunar soil; image of NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy | image: NASA

NASA had previous observations that detected some form of hydrogen. However, they were not able to determine between water or its similar chemical relative, hydroxyl (OH). The information they collected from this location had concentrations of 100 to 412ppm (parts per million). This is about the same amount of a 12-ounce bottle of water. – trapped in All through the lunar surface in a cubic meter of soil.

“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.”

– Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington

As we know water is a key ingredient of life. Is that water that was found easy accessible? That remains to be determined. This is one of the objectives in NASA’s Artemis program as well.

SOFIA

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy provided a new way at viewing the Moon. A modified Boeing 747SP jetliner with a telescope that’s 106″ (inches) in diameter is capable of flying to altitudes up to 45,000′ (feet). At these altitudes the vehicle is able to fly above 99% of the Earth’s atmospheric vapor. That provides as clear as possible imagery of the infrared spectrum.

“Without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface should just be lost to space. Yet somehow we’re seeing it. Something is generating the water, and something must be trapping it there.”

Casey Honniball, postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

This all raises many questions now to NASA’s research teams. How is it there? A few possibilities have risen from this new discovery. It’s possible that micrometeorites hit the lunar surface carrying water from afar. Another is that solar winds that hit the lunar surface carrying Hydrogen (H) have a chemical reaction to Oxygen (O) bearing minerals in the soil to create hydroxyl. All while, radiation from the micrometeorites could be transforming that hydroxyl into water.

It’s amazing that this particular telescope picked this up. The observation of the Moon by SOFIA was originally a test in 2018. Since SOFIA was designed to track and observe distant, dim objects, like black holes, star clusters, and galaxies.

“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. 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.”

Naseem Rangwala, SOFIA’s project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

The upcoming follow-up flights of SOFIA will take a peek at other sunlit locations. The data collected will help other future missions to the Moon. Including, VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) that is to explore the relatively nearby but extreme environment of the Moon in search of water ice, other potential resources and create a water resource map.

You may listen to the announcement below with post-follow up questions from media and scientists.

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Jon Van Horne
Jon Van Horne

He began his career in media as a multimedia designer and developer in Montreal, Quebec. He developed a passion for media during his job in Photography and Video at a Montreal media content company. Other passions in media, photography/videography and soon going back to school in engineering.