Conclusive evidence of water being present on the Moon was revealed by the United States space agency NASA after dropping hints days ago of a an “exciting new discovery about the Moon”.
Nasa’s hopes of establishing a lunar base will be boosted by this “unambiguous detection of molecular water”. The agency plans to tap into the Moon’s natural resources to sustain that base.
The findings have been published as two papers in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Water molecules have been detected in sunlit regions of the Moon’s surface unlike previous detections of water in the permanently shadowed parts of lunar craters.
“The amount of water is roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water in a cubic metre of lunar soil,” said co-author Casey Honniball, postdoctoral fellow at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, while speaking during a virtual teleconference.
The nature of the watery deposits still needed to be studies by researchers, said her NASA colleague Jacob Bleacher, from the agency’s human exploration directorate. Such understanding of the nature of the deposits of water on the Moon will help scientists to determine the level of accessibility of the water for future lunar explorers.
The latest discoveries suggest that water is more abundant than previously thought even though previous signs of its presence on the lunar surface have been available.
“It gives us more options for potential water sources on the Moon,” said Hannah Sargeant, a planetary scientist from the Open University in Milton Keynes, said in a television interview.
“Where to put a Moon base is largely focused on where the water is.”
In 2024, the first woman and next man to the lunar surface will be sent by it, the US space agency has said who will be tasked with preparing for the “next giant leap” of human kind – human exploration of Mars as early as the 2030s.
This meant developing “a more sustainable way of doing space exploration” Dr Sargeant explained.
“Part of that is using these local resources – especially water,” she said.
An airborne infrared telescope known as Sofia helped in scientists making the first of these new discoveries. This observatory has a largely unobstructed view of the Solar System because it is aboard a modified Boeing 747 which flies well above much of Earth’s atmosphere.
The “signature” colour of water molecules was picked up by researchers using this infrared telescope.
According to preliminary estimates of the researchers, the identified water is stored in bubbles of lunar glass or between grains on the surface which helps to keep it protected from the surrounding harsh environment.
This could “broaden the list of places where we might want to build a base”, said Dr Sargeant.
In the next few years, a number of one-off missions to the Moon’s polar regionsare slated to take place. But plans to build a permanent habitation on the lunar surface have been made for the long term.
“This could have some influence. It gives us some time to do some investigation,” said the Open University researcher. “It doesn’t give us much time because we’re already working on Moon base ideas and where we’re going to go, but it’s more promising.
“We were going to go to the Moon anyway. But this gives us more options and makes it an even more exciting place to go.”
(Adapted from BBC.com)