On Monday, NASA announced that its scientists had discovered water on Earth's Moon's sunlit surface for the first time. NASA had been teasing a big announcement for days in advance, hinting that it would come from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy — S.O.F.I.A. The discovery suggests that water may be distributed across the lunar surface, not just limited to the moon's dark side.
S.O.F.I.A. is an advanced telescope housed in the back of a 747 airplane, allowing astronomers to fly above the earth's atmospheric water to observe space beyond more clearly. With it, they were able to see water molecules (H2O) in the Clavius Crater, which is visible from Earth with the naked eye. Until now, scientists saw water and ice on the moon's surface but believed it was limited to the dark side, where sunlight never hit. The discovery has been published by the scientific journal Nature Astronomy.
"We had indications that H2O – the familiar water we know – might be present on the sunlit side of the Moon," said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "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."
Scientists had previously questioned how much of the "water" on the moon's surface was true H20, or "molecular water." They speculated that much of it might be hydroxyl, or OH — a molecule one hydrogen atom away from being true water. Now, they believe they have shown that the Clavius Crater has about 12 ounces of water spread throughout a cubic meter's worth of soil on the moon's surface.
The moon's ground is still far from a water-rich surface. According to NASA, the Sahara desert has about 100 times as much water on its surface as the moon, even with this observation. Still, the finding will reportedly have lasting impacts on the future of space travel, including the new Artemis program.
NASA's Artemis program intends to send the first human-crewed mission to the moon in decades and make history by putting the first woman on the moon. In the long-term, the agency hopes to establish "a strategic presence" on the moon, which will eventually aid in launching manned missions to Mars. NASA estimates that the Artemis program will land a man and a woman on the moon in 2024, and will put humans on the surface of Mars in the decade of the 2030s.