The discovery was confirmed thanks to the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
U.S. scientists on Monday announced their discovery of the first direct evidence of molecular water on the Moon, 11 years after India's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft had detected the signatures of a possible component of water. Later, a series of findings suggested that Earth's cosmic neighbor has traces of water trapped on the lunar surface.
That mining would be a boon to future Moon missions, says Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters. "This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises complex questions about what resources are needed for deep space exploration". Recently, NASA announced one major discovery about our own Moon, revealing the presence of water.
This is only the first step to water being on the moon: discovering it. But over the last 15 years, observations have led scientists to suspect that its polar regions could host water ice. Another one says that hydrogen brought by the solar wind could mix with oxygen-bearing minerals in its soil to form a substance called hydroxyl and later turn into water as a result of micrometeorite bombardments. While that statement might sound all too familiar in recent years, previous reports were based on spectral signatures that could have been other related compounds - this time, the detection is unambiguously water, in the molecular form we need.
"By using infrared absorption spectroscopy, they proved the lunar soil was composed of roughly 0.1 percent water by mass, with more water appearing further below the surface you went".
NASA is under White House direction to put astronauts back on the moon by 2024.
"Prior to the SOFIA observations, we knew there was some kind of hydration", Casey Honniball, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in the release.
SOFIA and 747 about to take-off. Credit NASA
"Yet somehow we're seeing it". While it's titled "Possible Water in Luna 24 Regolith from the Sea of Crises" in the English edition of the publication, the article by M.V. Akhmanova, B.V. Dementyev & M.N. Markov makes definitive claims about having discovered water.
According to the team, several forces could be at play in the delivery or creation of this water.
Space water - which includes Moon water - is already a commodity. While that is good news in general for the progress of science and space research, why is the rediscovery of water particles on the moon such a big deal?
The moon has a swarm of shadowy traps - traps where the sun never shines, cold enough that they could host water.
Using this infrared telescope, scientists were able to determine the "characteristic" color of water molecules.
In the second study, researchers used data from the lunar orbiter to study cold traps in permanently shadowed areas on the moon where water could remain frozen. The fact that the Moon's water ice may be speckled across its surface supports the idea that water was formed as micro-meteorites slammed into the surface, converting hydroxyl into molecular water.
The SOFIA detections confirm that water, not hydroxyl, can be found trapped in glass beads or in between grains on the moon at its high southern latitudes. If water is as abundant as the new research suggests, the impetus for going - and staying - increases, but we're still a long way from being able to exploit those resources.