NASA’s flying SOFIA telescope confirms water in the Moon’s soil – Astronomy Magazine

Posted: October 29, 2020 at 6:24 pm

Water molecules have been detected in the Moons surface by NASAs flying Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). Researchers found traces of the life-sustaining substance in one of the largest lunar craters visible from Earth, the Clavius Crater. This ancient impact site receives a significant portion of sunlight compared to other areas of the Moon, which suggests that lunar water might not be limited to shadowy sites at the Moons poles.

Without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface should just be lost to space, Casey Honniball, the studys lead author, said in a NASA press release. Yet somehow were seeing it. Something is generating the water, and something must be trapping it there.

The findings were published October 26 in Nature Astronomy.

Water, humanity, and the Moon

The key to how water could survive such a harsh lunar environment might be related to another harsh reality on the Moon: micrometeorites. These small pieces of space rock only a few hundredths of an inch or so wide rain down on the lunar surface, potentially forming beadlike glass structures upon impact.

Its these structures that the researchers think could trap and protect water molecules from sunlight. Alternatively, the researchers say, the water molecules could be caught between grains of lunar soil that shields them from sunlight. And depending on what exactly is protecting the newfound water from the Sun, scientists think astronauts may eventually be able to mine it.

However, its important to note that the amount of surface uncovered is still rather small. NASA compares the amount to 100 times less than is found in the Sahara Desert. So, researchers arent quite sure what these findings mean for supporting a sustainable human presence on the Moon.

The new find marks the first time SOFIA a modified Boeing 747 mounted with a 100-inch reflecting telescope has looked at the Moon. Follow-up flights by the aircraft will search for additional water signatures within sunlit portions of the Moon. The results will then be used to inform future NASA lunar missions, including NASAs Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER).

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NASA's flying SOFIA telescope confirms water in the Moon's soil - Astronomy Magazine

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