The existence of water on the Moon confirmed

The existence of water on the Moon confirmed

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Although water had already been detected in very shady places on the Moon, a Boeing 747 converted into a NASA stratospheric observatory has discovered it on the surface lit by the Sun. The finding may be relevant for future manned missions to our satellite.

TheNASA's Stratospheric Infrared Astronomy Observatory (SOFIA, for its acronym in English) has confirmed, for the first time, the presence of water in the part of the surface of the Moon illuminated by the sun. This discovery indicates that water can be distributed over the lunar surface and that it is not limited to cold and shady places.

SOFIA has detected water molecules (H2O) in theClavius ​​crater, one of the largest visible from Earth, located in the southern hemisphere of the Moon. Previous observations of the lunar surface detected some form of hydrogen, but could not distinguish between water and its close chemical relative, hydroxyl (OH).

Measurements from this location now reveal the presence of water inconcentrations from 100 to 412 parts per million, roughly equivalent to a 350 ml bottle of water trapped in a cubic meter of soil scattered across the surface of our satellite. The results are published in the latest issue of the journalNature Astronomy.

"We had indications that H2O, the familiar form of water that we know, could be present on the sunlit side of the Moon," he explains.Paul Hertz, director of the Division of Astrophysics in NASA's Science Mission Directorate. “Now we know it's there. This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about resources relevant to deep space exploration.

As a comparison, the Sahara desert has 100 times the amount of water SOFIA detected on the lunar soil. Although it is a small amount, the discovery raises new questions about how water is created and persists in the harsh airless lunar surface.

Water is a valuable resource in deep space and an essential ingredient for life as we know it. It remains to be determined whether the one SOFIA found would be easily accessible for use as a resource. Inside of theArtemis program From NASA, the agency is eager to learn as much as it can about the presence of water on the Moon before sending the first woman and next man to its surface in 2024 and establishing a sustained human presence there by the end of the decade. .

SOFIA's results are based on years of previous research examining the presence of water on the Moon. When the astronauts of theApollo returned for the first time from the Moon in 1969, it was believed that our natural satellite was completely dry.

Orbital and impact missions over the past 20 years, such as NASA's lunar crater detection and observation satellite, confirmed the presence of ice in permanently shaded craters located around the Moon's poles.

Water (H20) and not hydroxyl (OH)

Meanwhile, several spacecraft, including the Cassini mission and the Deep Impact mission to a comet, as well as the Chandrayaan-1 mission of the Indian Space Research Agency, and NASA's Ground Infrared Telescope Facility, examined the lunar surface and found evidence of hydration in sunnier locations.

However, those missions could not definitively distinguish which form it was present: H2O or OH.

"Before SOFIA's observations, we knew there was some kind of hydration," he says. Casey honniball, the main author, who published the initial results of this work in her thesis presented at the University of Hawaii (USA).

"But we didn't know how much of this hydration was actually water molecules, like the one we drink every day, or something more like a drain cleaner."

SOFIA has provided a new way to observe the Moon. Flying toaltitudes up to 13.7 kilometers, this passenger planeBoeing 747 SP modified with a 2.7 meter telescope in diameter flies above more than 99% of the water vapor in Earth's atmosphere to get a clearer view of the infrared universe.

Using yourInfrared Faint Object Camera for Telescope (FORCAST, for its acronym in English), this observatory was able to capture the unique specific wavelength of water molecules, at 6.1 microns, and discovered a relatively surprising concentration of these molecules in the sunny Clavius ​​crater.

"Without the protection of a dense atmosphere, the water on the sunlit area of ​​the lunar surface should be lost to space," says Honniball, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. “Yet somehow we are seeing it. Something is generating the water and something must be trapping it there.

Possible sources of the Moon's water

Several elements could contribute to the supply or creation of this water. Themicrometeorites that fall on the lunar surface carrying small amounts of water could deposit it on the lunar soil after impact.

Another possibility is that there could be a two-stage process whereby thesolar wind brings hydrogen to the lunar surface and causes a chemical reaction with minerals in the soil that contain oxygen, creating hydroxyl. Meanwhile, radiation from micrometeorite bombardment could transform that hydroxyl into water.

How water is stored and accumulated also raises some intriguing questions. Water could get trapped insmall structures in the ground, in the form of necklace beads, formed from the high heat generated by the impacts of micrometeorites.

Another possibility is that it may be hiddenbetween the grains of lunar soil and protected from sunlight, which would make it slightly more accessible than if it were trapped in bead-like structures.

For a mission originally designed to observe faint, distant objects such as black holes, star clusters and galaxies, targeting SOFIA toward Earth's closest and brightest neighbor was a significant change.

Telescope operators often use a guide camera to track stars, keeping the telescope fixed on its observation target. But the Moon is so close and bright that it fills the entire field of view of this camera.

Without visible stars, it was unclear whether the telescope could reliably track the Moon. To determine this, in August 2018, the operators decided to do a test observation.

"It was the first time SOFIA had looked at the Moon and we weren't even completely sure if we would get reliable data, but the questions about the water on the Moon made us give it a try," he recalls.Naseem Rangwala, a SOFIA project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center.

"It is incredible that this discovery came out of what was essentially a test, and we are already planning more observations."

SOFIA's follow-up flights will search for water in additional locations illuminated by the Sun and during different moon phases to learn more about how this substance is produced, stored and transported on the Moon.

The data will add to the work of future missions to the Moon, such as thevolatile exploration polar rover (VIPERNASA, to create the first water resource maps of our satellite for future human space exploration.

Water trapped in cold microtraps

In the same number ofNature Astronomy, scientists have published another paper using theoretical models and data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, noting that water could be trapped in small shadows or cold microtraps, where temperatures remain below freezing, over a larger area of ​​the planet. Moon than is currently believed.

"Water is a valuable resource, both for scientific purposes and for the use of our space explorers," he highlights.Jacob Bleacher, Chief Exploration Scientist in NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. "If we can use the resources of the Moon, then we can transport less water and more equipment to help enable new scientific discoveries."

SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center. The Ames center manages the SOFIA program, scientific research and mission operations, in cooperation with the University Space Research Association (USA) and the German SOFIA institute at the University of Stuttgart. The aircraft is maintained and operated from NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in California.


C. I. Honniball et al .: "Molecular water detected on the sunlit Moon by SOFIA”. P. O. Hayne et al .: “Micro cold traps on the Moon”.Nature Astronomy, 2020.
Source: POT

Video: NASA discovers traces of water on the moon


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