NASA announced that water has been discovered on the sunlit surface of the moon.
This is an important revelation that indicates water may be distributed across the lunar surface and not just limited to cold, shadowed places such as the poles.
DETECTION IS VERY UNIQUE FOR MOLECULAR WATER
Shuai Li, a planetary scientist said, “The detection is very unique for molecular water. The water signature was detected on the moon’s illuminated surface, where the molecule would be exposed to UV radiation and where temperatures fluctuate dramatically between dawn, noon and dusk. It is somewhat surprising but it is conclusive. Based on our knowledge it cannot be anything else.”
SOFIA WAS KEY TO THE DISCOVERY
The studying of water on the moon requires a giant flying telescope.
One of the keys to the discovery was the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a Boeing 747 with a telescope installed at the back of its fuselage.
The aircraft, operated by NASA and the DLR, Germany’s Aerospace Centre flies at almost 43,000 feet. During flight, it opens a hatch at the rear, pointing its telescope toward the sky and studying the cosmos in infrared light.
SOFIA sidesteps a problem encountered by telescopes closer to the ground.
Jessica Sunshine, an astronomer said, “Between us and the moon is a lot of water. The observatory in the 747 is designed to fly high enough above the earth that much of the water vapour does not mess with observations that gives it a clear shot at scouring the lunar surface for signs of H2O. I’m surprised nobody thought to do it sooner.”
WATER DETECTED AROUND THE CLAVIUS CRATER
The NASA team detected water around the Clavius crater.
“It is the same thing as we drink on Earth. But the abundance is extremely low. You will need to process a few thousand kilograms of lunar regolith to get 1 kilogram of water,” said Li.
The solar wind may contribute to creating water on the surface. The sun throws out hydrogen atoms which collide with the moon.
The team found little hydroxyl around Clavius crater. They propose impacts by micrometeorites can help mobilise the hydrogen and oxygen atoms, turning them into water.
NASA’S PUSH TO RETURN TO THE MOON
NASA is pushing to return to the moon with the Artemis programme which aims to establish a permanent base on the lunar surface by the end of the decade.
Any future moon base would be likely to take advantage of the resources on the moon’s surface — a process known as in situ resource utilisation.
Craig Lindley, a computational modelling expert said, “Water on the surface of the moon can be used for several very important things such as sustaining astronauts, creating oxygen and hydrogen for rocket fuel or power generation, or conducting horticulture experiments.”
A handful of space agencies including NASA and the European Space Agency, are examining ways to identify and extract water from the moon.
NASA wants to explore the unknown regions of the lunar south pole, potentially using the region as a launching pad for further exploration of the solar system and missions to Mars.
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