The Moon may be wetter than we thought.
NASA announced that its “flying telescope” was used for the first time to confirm the presence of water on the sunny surface of the Moon.
The Stratospheric Infrared Astronomy Observatory (SOFIA), a modified Boeing 747SP with a 2.7-meter telescope capable of observing above 99.9% of the water molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere, has could detect the wavelength of water.
Scientists already know that there is water on the Moon. It probably exists as ice in the permanently shaded walls of craters so large that some areas have gone without a single ray of sunlight for billions of years.
That’s why NASA plans to send astronauts to the Moon’s South Pole in 2024 to search for ice in Shackleton Crater, a massive impact crater approximately 13 miles in diameter and several miles deep.
It is believed that indoor “cold traps” could see temperatures of around minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, in an article published today in Nature astronomy it seems that SOFIA has detected water molecules in Clavius crater, one of the largest lunar craters visible on Earth, located in the southern hemisphere of the Moon. SOFIA found 100 to 412 parts per million, which is roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water, trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread over the lunar surface.
“Before the SOFIA observations, we knew there was some kind of hydration,” said senior author Casey Honniball, postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “But we didn’t know how many, if any, were actually water molecules – as we drink every day – or something like a drain cleaner.”
The Sahara Desert contains 100 times more water than SOFIA detected in the lunar soil, but the discovery raises questions about how water is created and how it persists on the hard, airless lunar surface.
“Without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface would simply have to be wasted in space,” Honniball said. “Yet somehow we see it. Something’s generating the water, and something’s got to trap it there.
“If you can imagine standing on the moon’s surface near one of its poles, you would see shadows everywhere,” said Paul Hayne, assistant professor in the Atmospheric and Space Physics Laboratory at CU Boulder and lead author. “A lot of those tiny shadows could be full of ice.”
These tiny patches of ice could exist in permanent shadows no larger than a dime, say the authors.
In “Cold micro-traps on the Moon”, Hayne et al. explore the dark regions of the lunar surface that exist in a state of eternal darkness. They estimate that there are approximately 15,000 square miles of permanent shadow that could contain ice. This is twice as much as previous predictions.
The study uses data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a satellite that has orbiting the Moon since 2009, to recreate what its surface might look like on a very small scale.
The lunar surface thus revealed itself like a golf ball, with the moon’s north and south poles being particularly bumpy and likely to contain many small-scale cold traps in tiny permanent shadows.
“If we’re right, water will be more accessible for drinking water, for rocket fuel, whatever NASA needs water for,” Hayne said. Future ice-hunting missions may be able to access these potential reservoirs much more easily than exploring a deep crater.
However, there is only one way to see if the researchers’ calculations are correct, and that is for the NASA astronauts to land on the moon and go look and dig in the little shadows of the moon.
NASA’s goal is to send the first woman and the next man to the surface of the moon in October 2024 as part of the Artemis program. This first crewed lunar flyover of the 21st century will land near the south pole of the Moon, where ice water is known to exist and these small cold traps are also most abundant.
Hayne is leading the development of a scientific instrument called the Lunar Compact Infrared Imaging System (L-CIRiS), which will land near the Moon’s south pole in 2022 on one of NASA’s preventive robotic landers.
An infrared camera, L-CIRiS, will take thermosensitive panoramic images of the Moon’s surface, essentially mapping the temperatures of shadows and rocks that dot the lunar surface.
I wish you clear skies and big eyes.