What does finding water on the Moon mean?

27 Octobre, 2020, 13:26 | Auteur: Adelaide Bullion
  • Moon richer in water than once thought

In NASA's news release on Monday, the USA government space agency makes clear that when they refer to previous "indications" water might be present on the sunlit side of the moon, they are referring to United States efforts in the 1990s, such as the 1994 Clementine spacecraft and 1998 Lunar Prospector orbiter, not to any Soviet finding. "This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about resources relevant for deep space exploration".

"If we find the water is abundant enough in certain locations we may be able to use it as a resource for human exploration". Most of the lunar water we know about is locked away as ice in frigid, perpetually-shadowed polar craters.

Earth news is a bit anxiety-provoking these days, which might be one reason why the Internet pulled out all the stops to communicate collective enthusiasm over the discovery of vast amounts of water on the moon.

The presence of water on the Moon is scientifically interesting; its distribution and form can help address some profound questions.

"Prior to the SOFIA observations, we knew there was some kind of hydration", said Casey Honniball, the study lead author and a postdoctoral program fellow at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. It was at least theoretically possible that there were two atoms of hydrogen-meaning H2O, or water-but earth-based telescopes can't detect that. "Whether or not these cold traps have water will need some very detailed - probably in situ - surveying of the surface".

Short for Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, NASA's flying telescope is literally a modified 747 aeroplane kitted out with a telescope at the back.

NASA has made a groundbreaking discovery - confirming the presence of water on the surface of Moon, in the area that is exposed to sunlight. Accessible sources where water can be harvested on the moon would beneficial to those endeavours.

"The existence of significant amounts of water on the lunar surface can be helpful for establishing a sustainable base there in the context of NASA's Artemis program with its worldwide partners", Avi Loeb, chair of Harvard's astronomy department, told Salon via email.

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"Without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface should just be lost to space", said Honniball.

"Yet somehow we're seeing it".

The discovery made by the United States space agency's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) indicated that water may be distributed across the lunar surface, and not limited to cold, shadowed places. But the signature of molecular water at the wavelength used in this research could also be associated with hydroxyl, which is oxygen bonded with hydrogen.

Using data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the researchers identified cold traps as small as a few yards (meters) across and as wide as 18 miles (30 kilometres ) and more, and used computer models to get all the way down to micrometers in size.

Yet contrary to this belief, the water was discovered near the Moon's South Pole, in an area which is reached by the sun.

A second paper, also published today in Nature Astronomy (big day for Nature Astronomy), reported that scientists found small scale "micro" cold traps at both of the Moon's poles, where about 40,000 km2 of water could be permanently stored as ice.

"If water is the oil of space, the Moon just became the OPEC of orbital refuelling".

That being said, the ice isn't easy to get to.

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