Last week we reported that NASA was about to announce an ‘exciting discovery’ based on data from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
This discovery has since been revealed to be an unequivocal confirmation of water on the Moon – and quite a lot of it, too.
Until the 1990s, the surface of the Moon was thought to be bone dry, but since then, hints of ice have been found suggesting that our lunar neighbor may actually be a lot wetter than scientists realized.
Now at last, by measuring the wavelengths of sunlight reflecting off the lunar surface, scientists have been able to confirm once and for all that there definitely is water on the Moon.
It was identified in the high latitude regions of the Moon’s south pole and in abundances of 100 to 400 parts per million, which planetary scientist Mahesh Anand has described as “quite a lot”.
“It is about as much as is dissolved in the lava flowing out of the Earth’s mid-ocean ridges, which could be harvested to make liquid water under the right temperature and pressure conditions,” he said.
The discovery is encouraging as it means that future manned missions to the Moon could potentially utilize this valuable resource to produce oxygen, fuel and drinkable water.
Exactly how difficult it will be to extract and process it however still remains a bit of a mystery as it is not clear if the water is dissolved within lunar ‘glass’ or stored in tiny ice crystals in the lunar soil.
It is also not clear how far down the water extends.
“With billions of potential water reservoirs scattered over the polar regions, the focus should be shifted away from the handful of well-known large craters and towards the multitude of potential landing sites our study reveals,” said Paul Hayne of the University of Colorado, Boulder.