NASA announces discovery of water on moon's sunlit surface

14 Janvier, 2021, 17:23 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Water discovered in sunlit parts of the moon

The discovery was confirmed thanks to the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

While scientists previously suspected that water existed in the shadowy, cold parts of the moon - such as its poles, where it would stay frozen - a pair of studies published on Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy confirm that there is a large amount of water on its sunlit regions, too.

That is of particular interest to NASA, which is planning a human mission to the Moon in 2024 and wants to build a sustainable presence there by the end of the decade to prepare for onward travel to Mars.

The observatory in the 747 is created to fly high enough above the Earth that much of the water vapor doesn't mess with observations - that gives it a clear shot at scouring the lunar surface for signs of H2O.

SOFIA is the only telescope on or off-world capable of giving remote access to this unique, 6.1-micron fingerprint of water.

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.

"What was essentially a test far exceeded our expectations", she said.

Astronomers have detected water on the Moon.

376713 11: (FILE PHOTO) A view of the Earth appears over the Lunar horizon as the Apollo 11 Command Module comes into view of the Moon before Astronatus Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin Jr. leave in the Lunar Module, Eagle, to become the first men to walk on the Moon's surface. Here on Earth we depend on gas stations or rest sites, allowing more efficient packing behavior.

This is definitely a landmark discovery and one that will likely prove integral to the future of human deep space exploration.

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"Water is heavy, therefore is expensive to launch from the surface if we don't have take water with us", Bleacher said. As such, the water could be used for drinking, fuel supply and other use cases.

"The Moon was once thought to be a desert, devoid of water, but in just the last few years we've seen hints of it either locked away inside minerals and impact glasses or as hydroxyls, but now this measurement ... of molecular water seems to be solid enough to drink", comments Alan Duffy, Lead Scientist of the Royal Institution of Australia, who wasn't involved with the study. "Understanding where the water is will help us determine where to send Artemis astronauts on the moon", Bleacher explained.

"If water is the oil of space, the Moon just became the OPEC of orbital refuelling". SOFIA detected water molecules (H2O) in Clavius Crater.

"That's roughly equivalent to a 12 ounce (350 millilitre) bottle of water within a cubic metre of volume of lunar soil", Honniball said in a NASA press conference.

These are not puddles, "but instead water molecules that are so spread apart that they do not form ice or liquid water", she said. It might be as simple as having a lunar rover drag icy rocks and soil into a sunlit spot and collect water as it evaporates.

Analyzing high-resolution lunar images, the team calculated that the Moon's polar regions host about 40,000 square kilometers of permanently shadowed areas that could contain water, from kilometers-wide craters to shallow depressions in the meteorite-gouged terrain, they report today in Nature Astronomy.

The water molecules - consisting of one oxygen and two hydrogen molecules - were detected via SOFIA's infrared spectrometer.

While the discovery raised new questions and debates on how water persisted despite harsh lunar conditions, many on social media celebrated the announcement with memes and jokes.

Scientists believe all this water on the moon came from comets, asteroids, interplanetary dust, the solar wind or even lunar volcanic eruptions.

"Our results suggest that water trapped at the lunar poles may be more widely distributed and accessible as a resource for future missions than previously thought", the researchers write.

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