Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

NASA Detects More Water and Ice on the Moon Than Previously Thought

NASA Detects More Water and Ice on the Moon Than Previously Thought
An illustration highlights the moon's Clavius Crater with an illustration depicting water trapped in the lunar soil there. NASA / Daniel Rutter

A pair of studies released Monday confirmed not only the presence of water and ice on the moon, but that it is more abundant than scientists previously thought. Those twin discoveries boost the prospect of a sustainable lunar base that could harvest the moon's resources to help sustain itself, according to the BBC.

Both studies were printed in Nature Astronomy. In the first study, a NASA telescope affixed to the fuselage of a 747 airplane flying at altitudes up to 45,000 feet detected the presence of water in a large crater visible from Earth. The telescope, called the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), zeroed in on the moon's surface with remarkable clarity to determine the molecular composition of the moon's face, according to a NASA statement.

Images from SOFIA allowed scientists to determine that a large portion of the hydrogen and oxygen combination they had previously noticed on a sunlit area of the moon are water, according to The New York Times.

"This discovery reveals that water might be distributed across the lunar surface and not limited to the cold shadowed places near the lunar poles," Paul Hertz, the director of NASA's astrophysics division, said during a news conference on Monday, as The New York Times reported.

In the second study, the NASA scientists suggest that water might be more widespread than they initially thought since it is likely trapped in many of the moon's shadowy surfaces, according to The Verge. Those cold areas of the moon possibly shelter water in an area over 15,000 square miles, according to the study.

The discovery is a boon to a potential lunar base since taking water to space is pricey, costing thousands of dollars per gallon. The discovery of water on the moon may mean that future astronauts will be able to hydrate and refuel their rockets, as The Washington Post reported. It also means they would be able to water plants, according to The Verge.

"Anytime we don't need to pack water for our trip, we have an opportunity to take other useful items with us," said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist for NASA's human exploration and operations directorate, to The New York Times.

Hannah Sargeant, a planetary scientist from the Open University in Milton Keynes, told the BBC that the location of the water will likely determine where a lunar base is established

Previous discoveries of water were found in craters in the moon's perpetually dark south. Temperatures there reach about -400 degrees Fahrenheit, making it impossible to reach the water with modern technology.

"They happen to be the coldest known places in the Solar System, believe it or not," Paul Hayne, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado and a lead author on the second study, told The Verge.

That makes the discovery of water deposits in less treacherous areas appealing to scientists thinking about future moon exploration, according to The New York Times.

"If we find that it's abundant enough in certain locations, it would be easier to access versus going into these very cold, very dark places," said Casey Honniball, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and lead author of the first study, to The Verge.

For the next steps, NASA will send unmanned rovers to the moon's south pole in 2023 to drill for water a meter below the surface, according to The Washington Post.

"Both papers deepen the mysteries of lunar water while providing pieces of the puzzle," wrote Bethany Ehlmann, an assistant professor of planetary science at Caltech who was not involved in the research, in an email to The Washington Post. "It's exciting to think that lurking in the shadow within ten degrees of the pole are tiny reservoirs of water ice."

A replica of a titanosaur. AIZAR RALDES / AFP via Getty Images

New fossils uncovered in Argentina may belong to one of the largest animals to have walked on Earth.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Trump's Affordable Clean Energy rule eliminated a provision mandating that utilities move away from coal. VisionsofAmerica /Joe Sohm / Getty Images

A federal court on Tuesday struck down the Trump administration's rollback of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Read More Show Less


A wild mink in Utah was the first wild animal in the U.S. found with COVID-19. Peter Trimming via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

By Jonathan Runstadler and Kaitlin Sawatzki

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have found coronavirus infections in pet cats and dogs and in multiple zoo animals, including big cats and gorillas. These infections have even happened when staff were using personal protective equipment.

Read More Show Less
A mass methane release could begin an irreversible path to full land-ice melt. NurPhoto / Contributor / Getty Images

By Peter Giger

The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.

Read More Show Less
Doug Emhoff, U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Jill Biden and President-elect Joe Biden wave as they arrive on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol for the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By John R. Platt

The period of the 45th presidency will go down as dark days for the United States — not just for the violent insurgency and impeachment that capped off Donald Trump's four years in office, but for every regressive action that came before.

Read More Show Less