Water on the Moon

#GS3 #Space #Technology

The Moon has water at places where none had been detected before, and has potentially more water than previously believed in regions where it was already understood to exist.


What was known about water on the Moon?

  • Previous Moon studies, including by the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) Chandrayaan-1 mission, have provided evidence for the existence of water. In 2009, the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument aboard Chandrayaan-1 found water molecules in the polar regions.
  • A paper in Nature Geoscience In August 2013 analysed M3 data to report the detection of magmatic water (water originating from the deep interiors) on the Moon’s surface.
  • However, what was not established in such studies — based on observations by the Chandrayaan-1 mission, NASA’s Cassini and Deep Impact comet mission, and NASA’s ground-based Infrared Telescope Facility — was whether the detected molecules were water as we know it (H20) or in the form of hydroxyl (OH).


What is different this time?

  • This time, it is confirmed H20 molecules, discovered in Clavius Crater in the Moon’s southern hemisphere. And it is the first time water has been detected on the sunlit side, showing it is not restricted to the shadowy regions.
  • SOFIA, which is a modified Boeing 747SP jetliner that flies at altitudes up to 45,000 feet, has an infrared camera that picked up the wavelength unique to water molecules. The data showed water in concentrations of 100-412 parts per million trapped in 1 cubic metre of soil.


How could the water have formed?

  • Space rocks carrying small amounts of water could have bombarded the Moon. Alternatively, the Sun’s solar wind could have carried hydrogen, which then reacted with minerals in the lunar soil to create hydroxyl, which later transformed into water.


What next?

  • SOFIA will look for water in additional sunlit locations to learn more about how the water is produced, stored, and moved across the Moon. Meanwhile, NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) will carry out a mission to create the first water resource maps of the Moon.


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