New NASA Findings Confirm Presence of Water on the Moon

"Something is generating the water, and something must be trapping it there.”

NASA announced that its Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) confirmed the presence of water on the sunlit surface of the moon for the first time.

According to a news release shared by NASA on Monday, SOFIA detected water molecules in one of the moon's largest craters visible from Earth, called the Clavius Crater.

In the past, observations found some form of hydrogen on the moon's surface, but they could not determine whether it was water or hydroxyl. However, new data indicates that there is the equivalent of "a 12-ounce bottle of water trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread across the lunar surface," according to the statement.

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Moon
Courtesy of NASA's Ames Research Center/Youtube

Even though it's a relatively small amount of H2O, this finding could have a major impact on scientists' understanding of the lunar surface.

"We had indications that H2O – the familiar water we know – might be present on the sunlit side of the moon," Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said. "Now we know it is there. This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about resources relevant for deep space exploration."

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Past missions confirmed the presence of ice and hydration (from either hydroxyl or water), but SOFIA — a modified Boeing 747SP jetliner equipped with a 106-inch diameter telescope typically used to look at distant objects like stars — was able to detect the water molecules' unique wavelength. This finding raises a number of questions for researchers.

"Without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface should just be lost to space. Yet somehow we're seeing it," lead author of the findings Casey Honniball said. "Something is generating the water, and something must be trapping it there."

The water's source is still unknown, but whether delivered by micrometeorites that hit the moon or created by a chemical reaction, it's an exciting discovery, especially when considering the future of human space travel.

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NASA's Artemis program will be sending the first woman and next man to the moon's surface by 2024 for greater exploration. And after that, NASA has its sights set on sending astronauts to Mars.

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