NASA on Monday said it has, for the first time, discovered water on the sunlit surface of the Moon. Scientists from NASA’s Ames Research Center, the University of Hawaii and Brown University in mid-2018 proved that water ice exists on the surface of the Moon, albeit at the poles and in lunar craters where sunlight never reaches.
Using its Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), NASA was able to detect water molecules in Clavius Crater, one of the Moon’s largest craters. It is visible from Earth in the Moon’s southern hemisphere.
This isn’t an entirely surprising discovery, because NASA scientists and researchers had previously found indications that water was potentially present on the moon’s sunlight side. But what is new is confirmation, in the form of observational data by NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) that deduce water molecules in the moon’s Clavius crater in its southern hemisphere.
As you might expect since it took this long to verify its presence, the lunar water isn’t very plentiful. NASA says they were able to detect between 100 and 412 parts per million in an area spanning a cubic meter of soil, which is around the equivalent of a standard 12-ounce bottle of water to put that in context, NASA points out that “the Sahara desert has 100 times the amount of water” versus what SOFIA was able to detect.
Casey Honniball, lead author on the research, said that 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.”
This is definitely a landmark discovery and one that will likely prove integral to the future of human deep space exploration. Part of those longer-term goals include establishing a scientific base of operations on the moon from which scientists can conduct research and eventually reach further out to destinations including Mars. Using in-situ resources, including water, could make all of that possible much quicker and without requiring much more complicated workarounds, since it forms the basis for not only human survival, but also essential resources for additional missions from the moon including rocket fuel for launches.