U.S space agency NASA confirmed Monday that water exists on the sunny side of the Moon, albeit in very small amounts.
According to a new study in the journal Nature Astronomy, water can persist on the sunlit side of the Moon, noting that future explorers may have new opportunities.
“This discovery reveals that water might be distributed across the lunar surface and not limited to the cold, shadowed places near the lunar poles, where we have previously discovered water ice,” NASA’s Paul Hertz said at a press conference.
In a news release, he noted that NASA scientists had some indications that water could exist on the Moon’s sunlit side.
But Hertz added that “now we know it is there,” and “this discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about resources relevant for deep space exploration.”
NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) found water molecules in the Clavius Crater, which is visible from Earth, said NASA in the release.
“Prior to the SOFIA observations, we knew there was some kind of hydration,” Casey Honniball, the lead author who published the results from her graduate thesis work at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, said on Monday in the news release. “But we didn’t know how much, if any, was actually water molecules—like we drink every day—or something more like drain cleaner.”
According to the agency, the amount of water on the Moon is minuscule, noting that the Sahara Desert in North Africa has about 100 times the amount than what SOFIA found in the lunar soil. But NASA’s “discovery raises new questions about how water is created and how it persists on the harsh, airless lunar surface,” it noted.
NASA researchers said they’re aiming to learn more about the presence of water on the Moon during the planned Artemis program, which will send people to the Moon’s surface in 2024.
SOFIA will attempt to observe water in additional sunny areas on the Moon to see how the life-sustaining substance is produced, stored, and moves across the lunar surface, said researchers.
“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,” Naseem Rangwala, SOFIA’s project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, said in the release. “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.”