The moon lacks the bodies of water that are a hallmark of Earth... but scientists - in a pair of research studies published Monday - for the first time, have determined that lunar water is more widespread than previously known.
Sofia, a joint project of the USA and Germany, is a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft that allows astronomers to study the solar system and beyond in ways that are not possible with ground-based telescopes.
"Water is a precious resource in space", said Hertz during the teleconference.
As important as it could be for science, this discovery is unlikely to be of any use for NASA's more practical goals that involve potential extraction of water from the Moon's surface to be used by astronauts and processed into hydrogen fuel. Most of these molecules are likely stored in the voids between moon dust and other particles or entombed in the glassy residue of of micrometeorite impacts.
Having dropped tantalising hints days ago about an "exciting new discovery about the Moon", the USA space agency has revealed conclusive evidence of water on our only natural satellite.
A separate study released yesterday suggested 15,400 square miles of lunar terrain, including penny-sized nooks and crannies, could hold frozen water in "cold traps". These small pieces of space rock - only a few hundredths of an inch or so wide - rain down on the lunar surface, potentially forming beadlike glass structures upon impact. Of NASA Artemis Project Aims to establish a long-term human presence on the moon "hot" for the future Trips To Mars.
"Water is a valuable resource, for both scientific purposes and for use by our explorers", said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. The most famous of these of course is water, containing two hydrogen atoms bound to an oxygen atom (H2O), but it's not the only one.
Paul Hayne at Colorado University and his colleagues examined the distribution of such cold traps across the lunar surface and found that small micro-cold traps, some only one centimetre in diameter, are hundreds to thousands of times more numerous than larger traps.
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Unlike previous detections of water in permanently shadowed parts of lunar craters, scientists have now detected the molecule in sunlit regions of the Moon's surface.
The water was found in amounts of about 100 to 400 parts per million in a cubic meter of soil, approximately the amount of a 12-ounce water bottle.
As its name suggests SOFIA is able to detect emission in the infrared and by examining a different band of radiation, a team of researchers headed by Casey Honniball at the University of Hawaiʻi, were able to clarify a water signature in the form of H2O at 6µm. The spacecraft is expected to reach the surface of the moon at the end of 2022.
According to scientists, these might be reservoirs capable of preserving water via ice.
Yet, the Moon's polar areas have proven to be quite challenging areas for landing, as was the case with India's Moon probe past year.
Samples from these cold traps could tell us more about how the Moon - and even Earth - got its water, Hayne said, perhaps providing evidence of water delivered by asteroids, comets and the solar wind.