A flying telescope shows water on the moon

Water is a critical resource for manned lunar missions. Now, astronomers have found conclusive evidence for the existence of water on the moon – even at both poles.

Water is a critical resource for manned lunar missions. Now, astronomers have found conclusive evidence for the existence of water on the moon – even at both poles.

Water on the moon

There is water on the moon.

It is NASA that beats this fast and with great confidence in the form of two scientific articles that have appeared in the journal Nature of Astronomy.

In doing so, both safe sources of water on the moon and suitable locations for future astronaut camps are found.

The reflection of sunlight reveals water molecules on the moon

NASA scientists have studied the moon with the space telescope SOFIA.

The telescope is installed in a Boeing 747 jet that flies so high that it passes over 99% of all water vapor in the atmosphere, and the telescope therefore detects infrared radiation from various celestial bodies.

The moon studied through a flight telescope

The new discovery was made through the flight telescope SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy).

The telescope is on board a jumbo jet of the type Boeing 747, which has been specially reinforced at the back to prevent the fuselage from breaking when the jet has reached an altitude of 13,700 meters and the astronomers open a four square meter door on the side of the plane.

At such a high altitude, this large telescope has a view of infrared radiation from outer space, radiation that cannot be seen from Earth because it is absorbed by water vapor in the atmosphere.

Many celestial bodies emit energy almost exclusively in the form of infrared radiation, and to view such planets, other telescopes than those that measure infrared radiation such as SOFIA are not sufficient.

With a built-in high-resolution spectrometer, SOFIA can detect the characteristics of different molecules, for example in a nebula or in the atmosphere of a planet.

The instruments have already detected traces of water in the vapor atmosphere of Mars, as well as the first molecules of the universe.

The spectrometer in the SOFIA telescope can detect different wavelengths in the infrared range with high precision.


With the spectrometer, SOFIA has detected infrared radiation in the sunlight reflected from the moon, but different molecules absorb radiation at different wavelengths before the light is reflected.


Due to the high-precision resolution of the spectrometer, the astronomers are now certain that in the reflection of sunlight, certain signals can be detected at wavelengths around 6 micrometers – and this can only be caused by one specific molecule: H 2 O.


Previous studies have found similar traces of water but around 3 micrometers, where the discrepancy could theoretically be caused by other hydrogen oxide compounds. But that doubt is no longer there.


It is estimated that there are about 100-400 water molecules per million.


Shades keep the water steady

The water on the moon is trapped in so-called cold traps, but they are located near the poles in such a way that they are always in the shade.


In these places, the astronomers believe that the shadow keeps the water solid in the form of ice and protects it both against heat and the powerful radiation that comes from the sun, which is even more powerful due to the fact that there is no vapor sphere.

Spectral studies of the Moon have shown water ice (red dots) at the Moon’s poles.

In images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the astronomers have studied the amount of ice in cold traps ranging from 1 km down to 1 centimeter in diameter.

According to their results, the cold traps cover about 40,000 square kilometers or about 0.1% of the moon’s surface.

The water makes the moon a fuel station

The results show that water either forms on the moon or gets there naturally.

However the water is created, it gives future astronauts a clear indication of where to find water, and is of huge importance in future space laws.

This large amount of water is not only sufficient to provide drinking water and atmospheric oxygen for the inhabitants of lunar bases, but it will also be possible to extract a large amount of fuel in the form of oxygen and hydrogen.

Once large quantities of water and rocket fuel can be produced, the Moon will become an important refueling station for both manned and unmanned missions to Mars.

And if humanity really starts to venture out into the solar system in 30 years, both water and fuel production on the moon will be an essential part of that journey.

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