New Delhi | Jagran News Desk: For the first time, American space agency NASA's SOFIA flying observatory has found water on a sunlit surface of the moon. Several orbital and impactor missions over the last five decades have confirmed water in the form of ice inside dark and permanently shadowed craters on the moon. However, this is the first time humans have found water on a sunlit lunar surface. According to NASA, the latest SOFIA discovery has suggested that water may be distributed to the Moon's 14.6 million square miles surface. The water molecules have been discovered on Clavius Crater, which is also visible from Earth.

"Water molecules were found in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth on the Moon! This discovery from our SOFIA telescope indicates that water may be distributed across the surface, & not limited to cold, shadowed places," the American space agency said.

"We had indications that H2O – the familiar water we know – might be present on the sunlit side of the Moon,” NASA quoted Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Now we know it is there. This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about resources relevant for deep space exploration.

Although the quantity SOFIA discovered is small - Sahara desert has 100 times the amount of water found in Clavius Crater - but the discovery has raised new questions for the scientists - how water is created and how it persists on the harsh, airless lunar surface?

What does the discovery mean for future generations?

Although it is yet to be determined whether the water SOFIA discovered on the sunlit lunar surface is easily accessible for use as a resource, it may very well be used as drinking water in the future.

Several spacecraft – including the Cassini mission and Deep Impact comet mission, as well as the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 mission deeply studied the lunar surface and found evidence of hydration in sunnier regions. Yet those missions were unable to definitively distinguish the form in which it was present – either H2O or OH. 

"Prior to the SOFIA observations, we knew there was some kind of hydration,” said Casey Honniball, the lead author who published the results from her graduate thesis work at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu. "But we didn’t know how much, if any, was actually water molecules – like we drink every day – or something more like drain cleaner."

Water is always considered a precious resource and key ingredient to life on the Earth. But in deep space, where humans are constantly trying to find signs of life, the discovery of water on the Moon is even bigger. "SOFIA’s results build on years of previous research examining the presence of water on the Moon," NASA said.

The space agency also said that it was very keen to learn all about the presence of water on the lunar surface before sending a manned mission to the lunar surface in 2024. Under its Artemis program, NASA plans to send first woman and next man to Moon and establish a sustainable human presence there by the end of the decade.

Posted By: Shashikant Sharma