Written By: Eleanor Pratt
While things here on Earth have been extremely hectic for the past few weeks, there have also been exciting things going on above us. On Monday, Oct. 26, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) confirmed that water is not only located on the dark and cold areas of the Moon but is also found in sunlit portions of the surface. This exciting discovery has far-reaching implications for the future of human space exploration and raises questions about the very nature of the Moon.
A press release on NASA’s website explains that SOFIA detected water molecules in the Clavius Center, which is one of the largest craters visible to Earth. Further investigation revealed that there were roughly twelve ounces of water under about a cubic meter of soil spread far across the surface of the Moon. To put things in perspective, the Sahara desert has about 100 times more water than what was discovered.
In the same press release, the director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate Paul Hertz said, “Now we know [water] is there. This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about resources relevant for deep space exploration.” That being said, Casey Honniball, the lead author of the study on the discovery, made a statement to make sure everyone understood what the find actually entailed. She explained, “This is not puddles of water but instead water molecules that are so spread apart that they do not form ice or liquid water.”
Additionally, in a publication for the journal Nature Astronomy, scientists point out that there is a possibility that even more water could be trapped in the darker places on the moon where temperatures stay well below freezing. However, it is noted that the location of the water is most likely the result of local geography rather than something that occurs all over the Moon.
The discovery of the water has led to more questions about how exactly it formed, as well as what uses lunar water may have for Earth. Addressing where this water came from, Honniball said, “Without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface should just be lost to space,” she then continued, stating “Something is generating the water, and something must be trapping it there.”
In regards to how useful this water could be for us here on Earth, NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate Jacob Bleacher says, “Water is a valuable resource, for both scientific purposes and for use by our explorers,” and that “If [NASA] can use the resources on the Moon, then we can carry less water and more equipment to help enable new scientific discoveries.”
In the future, NASA plans to send more flights to look for water in other sunlight sections to learn more about how exactly this water is created, stored, and moved across the Moon’s surface. The Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover will soon be sent to the Moon to make the very first maps of the location of water, which scientists say is a huge step for human space exploration and knowledge.