NASA telescope spots molecular water on the sunlit Moon surface

Water discovered in sunlit parts of the moon

"With more observations we will be able to characterise the behaviour of water across the lunar surface and understand its source, where it resides, and if it moves around 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".

Now those doubts have been eased, thanks to readings picked up by the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, also known as SOFIA.

NASA has been firmly concentrating on sending humans to the Moon with its Artemis initiative for the past two years, with the organization emphasizing' sustainability' as the ultimate target.

SOFIA's readings were gathered two years ago as the heavily modified Boeing 747SP jet, flew above 99% of Earth's atmosphere - a strategy that made it possible to observe the moon in the right infrared wavelengths.

SOFIA is the only telescope on or off-world capable of giving remote access to this unique, 6.1-micron fingerprint of water. However, she noted the rover will study not just potential ice deposits in permanently shadowed regions but also search for water in areas in full sunlight.

NASA in 2009 found water crystals in a deep crater near the Moon's southern pole.

On the call, Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said the results are "exciting for human exploration", but there are greater implications for it. Here on Earth we depend on gas stations or rest sites, allowing more efficient packing behavior.

Water is a precious resource and a relatively plentiful lunar presence could prove important to future astronaut and robotic missions seeking to extract and utilise water for purposes such as a drinking supply or a fuel ingredient.

"But we didn't know how much, if any, was actually water molecules - like we drink every day - or something more like drain cleaner".


"If water is the oil of space, the Moon just became the OPEC of orbital refuelling". The molecules are so far apart that they are in neither liquid nor solid form, said lead researcher Casey Honniball, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

Honnibal and her colleagues analysed data from the SOFIA airborne telescope (which is literally a telescope in a 747), and were able to detect what was described as a "spectral signature of H20" that is not shared with other hydroxyl compounds. This is four times larger than measured in lunar soil samples in the lab - highlighting the gaps in our understanding of water on the Moon.

"If you can imagine standing on the surface of the moon near one of its poles, you would see shadows all over the place", said Paul Hayne, lead study author and assistant professor in the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder, in a statement.

"That's roughly equivalent to a 12 ounce (350 millilitre) bottle of water within a cubic metre of volume of lunar soil", Honniball said in a NASA press conference.

The water could come from solar wind, or micro-meteor impacts causing chemical reactions with hydrogen-based molecules.

NASA's announcement was made in conjunction with the publication of a second study in Nature Astronomy, showing tiny permanently shadowed cold traps may house small patches of water ice all over the moon's surface.

Five things you should know about the moon.

One paper published in 1978 in Geokhimiia (Geochemistry), the monthly scientific journal of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, pretty definitively declared it had discovered water on the lunar surface in the Mare Crisium crater.

The study released today poses the likelihood that explorers will encounter water that is much less lethal in other parts of the Moon.

These studies are changing the way scientists look at the moon.

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