In a first, NASA's flying observatory called SOFIA has confirmed the presence of water on the sunlit surface of the moon on Tuesday. Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has found water in Moon's Clavius Crater, which is one of the largest craters visible from Earth.
According to NASA, the quantity of water found on Moon's surface is roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water, which is spread in cubic metre of soil spread on Moon's surface. The Sahara desert has 100 times the amount of water than what SOFIA detected in Moon's soil.
"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.
💦🌚 Water molecules were found in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth on the Moon! This discovery from our @SOFIAtelescope indicates that water may be distributed across the surface, & not limited to cold, shadowed places. More: https://t.co/oIcCbbl50Ypic.twitter.com/Q5Ve6QwZJM— NASA (@NASA) October 26, 2020
Until today, space scientists, astronauts, and physicists knew there was some presence of water on the Moon's surface but its quantity remained a mystery for everyone.
Water molecules were detected in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth, in the Moon’s southern hemisphere. pic.twitter.com/O6D5IDAoyv— SOFIAtelescope (@SOFIAtelescope) October 26, 2020
The water may be delivered by tiny meteorites that deposit it on impact. ☄️ pic.twitter.com/t0Yr0tN706— SOFIAtelescope (@SOFIAtelescope) October 26, 2020
Or the water could be formed by the interaction of energetic particles ejected from the☀️Sun. pic.twitter.com/NcRceOzX8Y— SOFIAtelescope (@SOFIAtelescope) October 26, 2020
In 1969, when Apollo astronauts first returned from the moon, they thought it was completely dry. However, in the past 20 years, NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite confirmed ice in permanently shadowed craters around the Moon's poles.
Additionally, ISRO's Chandrayaan-1, Cassini mission, and Deep Impact comet mission found evidence of hydration in sunnier regions of the Moon. But those missions were unable to distinguish the form in which it was present (either H2O or OH).
How NASA's SOFIA discovered water?
SOFIA, which is a Boeing 747SP jetliner, flew at an altitudes of 45,000 feet with a 106-inch diametre telescope. The plane reached above 99 per cent of the water vapour in the Earth's atmosphere to get a view of the infrared universe.
During this mission, Faint Object infraRed CAmera was used for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST), which discovered water molecules on the Clavius Crater.
NASA said that SOFIA's follow-up flights will look for water in additional sunlit locations and during different lunar phases to learn more about how the water is produced, stored, and moved across the Moon.
SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Centre. The aircraft is maintained and operated by NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Centre in California, US.