Scientists were able to spot water on the moon for the first time.
Let that sink in. The moon, as we know it, was supposed to be an arid mass orbiting our H2O-rich planet. But NASA scientists just spied a small amount of water they say is about equivalent to 12 ounces, trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread across Clavius Crater. That’s one of the largest craters you can see from Earth.
Although an earlier lunar exploration failed to reveal water, a modified Boeing 747SP airplane called SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) flying at up to 45,000 feet and carrying a 106-inch-diameter telescope was able to detect water molecules with its infrared camera.
The fact that it was found on the sunny side of the moon presents an interesting new opportunity for scientists who are working on sending the first female astronaut (and another male astronaut) there in 2024.
“Prior to the SOFIA observations, we knew there was some kind of hydration,” said Casey Honniball, the lead author, who published the results from her graduate thesis work at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa in Honolulu. “But we didn’t know how much, if any, was actually water molecules—like we drink every day—or something more like drain cleaner.”
This is a critical discovery, as NASA’s Artemis program is tasked with establishing “a sustainable human presence [on the Moon] by the end of the decade.”