A new world? Water on the Moon.

We are in 2020, undoubtedly a very strange year. Beside all the things that happened in the last months all around the world, this October 26th NASA announced that they had found water on the Moon. This is an extraordinary discovery that could have serious implications for our species and that fills us with hope for an exciting future.

However, there are some questions that humans might want to take into consideration, such as: how can we be sure about the presence of water on the Moon? How this discovery can affect us on a long – term daily basis? And why has NASA taken so many years to figure it out?

It is important to deeply analyze the facts and methodologies that took scientists to this important discovery. The credit for this success belongs to SOFIA (acronym of Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy), a very particular telescope located inside of a jetliner, the Boeing 747SP.

This project goes back to ten years ago when a collaboration was created between the spatial American agency and the DLR, the German Aerospace Centre.

The Boeing 747SP. Credits: businessinsider.com
SOFIA. Credits: businessinsider.com

The crucial feature of SOFIA is that it can soar up to a maximum of 14km. Indeed, at these heights, it is possible to obtain informations that otherwise only a spatial telescope could. It is the largest world’s flying observatory, and its development costs amount to 2 billion USD.

Especially because of its ability to operate at high altitudes, SOFIA offered a new way to “look at the Moon”.

The area in which the telescope has detected several molecules of H2O is the Clavius Crater, situated in the southern hemisphere of the satellite. It is one of the largest craters located on the sunlit surface of the Moon.

At the moment, the presence of water SOFIA has measured is 100 times less than that of the Sahara Desert but according to some studies, over 40,000 square kilometers of the lunar surface, could contain trapped water. Moreover, the fact that it is situated on the sunlit part of lunar surface makes it easier to exploit it than if it was on the bottom of a deeper crater on the dark side of the moon.

However, what does this mean?

Even if it is not possible to know how much of these resources will be exploitable, it is already a starting point for NASA’s Artemis program, which plans to send the first woman to the lunar surface in 2024 and colonize our satellite by the end of the decade.

The presence of water is necessary not only for the outliving of humans who will reach the Moon’s surface but also for all the benefits they will take advantage of. Firstly, water permits the cultivation of plants useful for nourishing, and to obtain oxygen. Secondly, water can be used for the creation of new scientific equipment, such as rockets that could use the moon as point of departure for future missions to Mars.

Talking about the possible effects of this discovery, the chief exploration scientist at NASA said “Water is a valuable resource, for both scientific purposes and for explorers. If we can use the water already available on the Moon, then we will be able to carry less of it with us and carry more equipment to help with our experiments.”

It is not yet clear how the water has been created but there are several hypotheses. According to one of the most plausible theories, water may be created as a by-product of micrometeorites impacting the Moon.

This illustration highlights the Clavius Crater and depicts lunar molecules trapped in the lunar soil. Credit: NASA –  Ames Research Center – Daniel Rutter

Thanks to these new technologies we are now sure of the presence of the water on the Moon.

Indeed, if we go backward in time, the first Apollo, that reached the Moon in 1969, it was thought to be completely parched. Later on, after a few years, scientists were also able to find out the presence of ice on shadowed craters. And today, these discoveries are seen as the starting point that helped NASA be completely sure about the presence of water in sunnier regions.

It is fascinating to think that one day humans may be able to live on a celestial body other than the Earth. However, because of how much climate change is affecting our planet, we might have to accelerate our efforts to reach our satellite, in the hope of treating it better than we are treating our own world right now.

Claudia Leva.

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