NASA finds new sources of water on the moon, what that means for future space exploration

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Exciting news from NASA, water has been detected on the sunlit surface of the moon.

Two studies published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy go into detail about the water found on the moon. NASA also provided additional details in a teleconference Monday morning.

The data that led to the definitive confirmation of water on the moon comes from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA. SOFIA is a modified Boeing Jetliner that flies at altitudes up to 45,000 feet. This flying telescope studies the cosmos in the infrared.

Dr. Paul Hertz, the Astrophysics Division Director at NASA, said in today’s teleconference that “This discovery reveals that water might be distributed across the lunar surface and not limited to the cold shadowed surfaces near the lunar poles where we have previously discovered water ice.”

The water was discovered in the moon’s Southern Hemisphere at Clavius Crater, which is one of the largest craters visible from Earth. The water is in a form that may surprise you. 

Dr. Casey Honniball, a Postdoctoral Fellow at NASA and lead author of one of the papers published Monday, says that the water on the sunlit surface of the moon has two potential sources, the solar wind or micrometeorites. 

“We think the water is trapped within glass beads within the soil that forms during micrometeorite impacts. These glass beads are about the size of a fingertip and protect the water from the harsh lunar environment,” Honniball said.

Water being present in these easier to access sunlit areas may be a boon for future space exploration, especially the Artemis Program, in which NASA plans to land the first woman and the next man on the moon in 2024.

Dr. Jacob Bleacher, Chief Exploration Scientist of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) at NASA, discussed the importance of this discovery during the teleconference.

“Water is extremely critical for deep space exploration,” Dr. Bleache said. “It’s a resource of direct value for our astronauts. Water can be turned into oxygen for them to breathe. It can be a fuel supply later.”

According to Dr. Bleacher, a rover set to land on the lunar surface in 2022, will confirm today’s findings. 

“Future missions like NASA’s volatiles investigating polar exploration rover, or VIPER, will be looking for water directly on the surface or up to a meter below the surface to help make the first water resource maps of the moon,” Dr. Bleacher said.

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