NASA’s big announcement about the Moon – and no, it’s not a Death Star!!

Artist's rendering of astronauts mining the Moon. Image: NASA

Happy Sunday, sky gazers!! We headed into this week with some pretty big news. For the first time, molecular water (H2O) was discovered in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from earth, located in the Moon’s southern hemisphere, suggesting water might not be limited to cold, shadowed places.  Goddard postdoc, Dr. Casey Honniball, made the discovery using NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).  During the press conference on Monday, Dr. Honniball said: "The amount of water is roughly equivalent to a 12 ounce bottle of water within a cubic meter of lunar soil." However it is important to note that the water is seemingly distributed across the lunar surface, and there may be differences across regions, she added.  “Without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface should just be lost to space,” said Dr.Honniball “Yet, somehow we’re seeing it. Something is generating the water, and something must be trapping it there.” The findings have been published as two papers in Monday’s issue of Nature Astronomy.

Video credit: NASA/Ames Research Center

“We had indications that H2O – the familiar water we know – might be present on the sunlit side of the Moon,” said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. “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.”  This unequivocal detection of molecular water (H2O) will contribute to NASA’s efforts to learn about the Moon in support of deep space exploration. SOFIA’s follow-up flights will look for water in additional sunlit locations during different lunar phases, to learn more about how water is produced, stored and moved across the Moon. The data will assist future Moon missions, such as NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), to create the first water resource maps of the Moon for future human space exploration. The US space agency has said it will send the first woman, along with the next man to the lunar surface in 2024 through their Artemis program, establishing a sustainable human presence there by the end of the decade. They are preparing for human exploration of Mars in the 2030s. But if this is to work, they need to make the most of what the Moon environment has to offer. “Water is a valuable resource, for both scientific purposes and for use by our explorers,” said Jacob Bleacher, Chief Exploration Scientist for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “If we can use the resources at the moon, then we can carry less water and more equipment to help enable new scientific discoveries.”  Bleacher also said - "We know there's water on the moon, but we don't know exactly how accessible lunar water is for our future explorers. Knowing where we can find water is a good first step. But we need to know more about the water to understand if and how we can use it for both science and exploration." Before astronauts can pack their version of R2-D2, Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, and NASA space cups, more research needs to be done.

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