NASA created stratospheric levels of speculation with an announcement last week that it had made a major “discovery” on the surface of the moon. On Monday, it announced that its Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) had found water molecules on the moon that defy previous assumptions.
“SOFIA detected water molecules (H2O) in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth, located in the Moon’s southern hemisphere,” NASA said in a statement that followed. “Previous observations of the Moon’s surface detected some form of hydrogen, but were unable to distinguish between water and its close chemical relative, hydroxyl (OH). Data from this location reveal water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million—roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water—trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread across the lunar surface.”
SOFIA is a souped-up 747 jet with an advanced laboratory and 9-foot telescope that “observes in infrared wavelengths and can detect phenomena impossible to see with visible light.”
The announcement was made in part by Dr. Casey Honniball, who had previously used SOFIA to search for water on the lunar surface, with some success, according to a paper she published earlier this year.
“We need to know more about the water to understand if and how we can use it for scientific exploration,” Paul Hertz, Director of the Astrophysics Division, said on the call.
NEWS: We confirmed water on the sunlit surface of the Moon for the 1st time using @SOFIAtelescope. We don’t know yet if we can use it as a resource, but learning about water on the Moon is key for our #Artemis exploration plans. Join the media telecon at https://t.co/vOGoSHt74c pic.twitter.com/7p2QopMhod
— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) October 26, 2020
In 2024, NASA’s Artemis program will send humans to the moon for the first time since 1972. The mission will include the first woman to ever step on the lunar surface and will serve as a link to the space agency’s plans to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.
As a result, there has been no shortage of news around the moon this year. NASA has been ramping up Project Artemis for some time and rolling out the announcements, both scientific and business-related. In September, the agency announced that it had found a new, shorter, fuel-efficient route to the moon that could allow probes to get there on the cheap; last week, word broke that it had contracted Nokia to build a cellular network on the moon’s surface.
Nokia was one of the 15 companies NASA tapped to help build a human base on the moon as part of the Artemis program.