NASA announced on Monday (October 26) the results of a study that found definitive evidence of water molecules on the sunlit surface of the moon.
"For the first time, water has been confirmed to be present on the sunlit surface of the moon," said Paul Hertz, NASA's Astrophysics Division director during a press conference.
The study used data from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy airborne telescope, called SOFIA. In 2018, scientists launched SOFIA, a modified 747 equipped with a high-powered telescope to search two sections of the moon for signs of water. Because water molecules in the earth's atmosphere have impacted previous attempts to identify water, the 747 was flown at an altitude high enough to prevent the earth's water vapor from interfering with their readings.
When they reviewed the data, they found signs of water molecules trapped in glass beads and hidden in between grains in the Clavius crater, which is located in the moon's southern hemisphere.
"It is the same thing as we drink on Earth," Shuai Li, a planetary scientist at the University of Hawaii and co-author on one of the new studies, said, according to CNET. "But the abundance is extremely low. You will need to process a few thousand kilograms of lunar regolith to get 1 kilogram of water."
A second study found that tiny pockets of water could be frozen in "micro cold traps" that pocket the surface of the moon. Scientists believe these "cold traps," which can be as small as a penny, exist in areas of permanent darkness, where the temperature can get as low as -300 degrees Fahrenheit. They have yet to find evidence that the "micro cold traps" contain water ice but hope to learn more in future studies.
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