NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) telescope has discovered more water on the moon’s surface. New discoveries of water have been made in the southern hemisphere of the Moon. The research was led by Casey Honeyball, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The team discovered water in the Moretus Crater region, close to the moon’s Clavius crater, where the original findings were made. With new observations and the availability of comprehensive data, researchers have also been able to map the abundance of water in the crater.
“If you can find out [sufficiently] The large amount of water on the surface of the moon – and knowing how it’s being stored and in what form it is – you can learn how to extract it and use it for breathable oxygen or rocket fuel for a more sustainable presence,” said Honeyball.
Sophia, with its Faint Object infrared camera, was able to overcome the challenges of distinguishing between water and hydroxyl – a molecule bound to a single hydrogen atom (OH) by oxygen, compared to two hydrogen atoms in water (H2O). A telescope that flies above the 99 percent water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere can see what ground-based telescopes cannot.
Sophia’s ability to distinguish between water and hydroxyl has helped astronomers theorize how water originally got to the moon.
“The Moon is constantly being bombarded by the solar wind, which is delivering hydrogen to the surface of the Moon,” Honeyball said. “This hydrogen interacts with oxygen on the moon’s surface to form hydroxyl.”
When micrometeorites hit the Moon, the high temperature causes two hydroxyl molecules to combine, leaving behind a water molecule and an extra oxygen atom. Although much of this formed water is swept away into space, some of it is trapped within the glass formed on the lunar surface by the impact.
Researchers, using data from SOFIA, have also made observations to understand how water varies depending on the moon’s latitude, composition, and temperature.