NASA’s SOFIA detects and confirms water molecules on sunlit surface of moon

The water molecules were detected in Clavius Crater, which is also one of the largest craters visible from the Earth, by SOFIA. The crater is located in Moon’s Southern Hemisphere.

Oct 28, 2020 12:09 IST

SOFIA- The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy of NASA has detected water on the moon’s sunlit surface. This latest discovery indicates that water may be distributed across the moon’s surface and is not just limited to shadowed, cold places.

According to the scientist from NASA, even though the moon lacks the bodies of liquid water that are on Earth, the lunar water is more widespread, where water molecules are within mineral grains on the surface. It can be expected that more water is hidden in ice patches that are in permanent shadows.

A team which was led by Casey Honniball of Goddard Space Flight Centre of NASA had detected water molecules on the surface of the moon, confined between debris grains or within natural glasses.

NASA’s SOFIA detects water molecules on the moon:

The water molecules were detected in Clavius Crater, which is also one of the largest craters visible from the Earth, by SOFIA. The crater is located in Moon’s Southern Hemisphere. Previous observations on the surface of the moon had also detected some form of hydrogen but it was not possible to distinguish between water and close chemical relative, Hydroxyl (OH).

As per the statement, the data from this location had revealed water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million trapped in a cubic of soil which is spread across the lunar surface. The results have also been published in the latest issue of Nature Astronomy.

How SOFIA detected water on the sunlit surface of the moon?

According to NASA, SOFIA has offered a new means of looking at the moon. By flying at altitudes of up to 45,000 feet, this modified Boeing jetliner with a telescope of 106-inch diameter reached above 99% of the water vapour present in Earth’s atmosphere in order to get a clearer view of the infrared universe.

By using FORCAST-  Faint Object Infrared Camera for SOFIA Telescope, SOFIA picked up the specific wavelength which is unique to water molecules, at 6.1 microns, and successfully found a concentration in sunny Clavius Crater.

What changes with the discovery of water on the moon?

While commenting on the discovery, Paul Hertz from NASA headquarters in Washington stated earlier there were indications H2O might be present on the sunlit side of the moon but now it is confirmed that it is there.

The discovery has challenged the understanding of the lunar surface and has also raised intriguing questions about the resources significant for deep space exploration.

As per Casey Honniball who is a postdoctoral fellow at Goddard Spaceflight Centre of NASA states that without the thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit surface of the moon should be lost to space but still we are able to see it. It shows that something must be producing the water and confining it there.

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