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The water was detected on the Clavius Crater, a large crater located in the moon's southern hemisphere that is visible from Earth

By Nicholas Rice
October 27, 2020 11:05 AM
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NASA has confirmed the presence of water on the moon's sunlit surface.

According to a news release from the air and space government agency this week, NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy — also known as SOFIA — aircraft found the water in what is known as the Clavius Crater, a large crater in the moon's southern hemisphere that is visible from Earth.

The water — which has been discovered for the first time in areas outside of the moon’s sunless spots — could fill an approximately 12-ounce bottle, per the release.

"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."

Moon
The moon
| Credit: PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP via Getty

Scientists' next goal is to discover how the water was produced and how it has remained on the sunlit surface. NASA published their findings in the latest issue of Nature Astronomy.

"Prior to the SOFIA observations, we knew there was some kind of hydration," Casey Honniball, the publication's lead author, said. "But we didn’t know how much, if any, was actually water molecules – like we drink every day – or something more like drain cleaner."

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

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So how is the water present? According to Honniball, there are several possible explanations.

Per the news release, micrometeorites crashing into the moon that carry tiny bits of H20 could "deposit the water on the lunar surface upon impact."

Another theory is that the water could be trapped in tiny structures that are located in the moon's soil.

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The results from SOFIA come after years of research.

"It was, in fact, the first time SOFIA has looked at the moon, and we weren’t even completely sure if we would get reliable data, but questions about the moon’s water compelled us to try," said Naseem Rangwala, SOFIA’s project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center. "It’s incredible that this discovery came out of what was essentially a test, and now that we know we can do this, we’re planning more flights to do more observations."

Per the news release, SOFIA's next journey will "look for water in additional sunlit locations" as well as "during different lunar phases" in an effort to learn more about water.

Understanding the new moon discovery will allow NASA to determine how to use the water as a resource.