Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

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

Science
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."

Plastic bails, left, and aluminum bails, right, are photographed at the Green Waste material recovery facility on Thursday, March 28, 2019, in San Jose, California. Aric Crabb / Digital First Media / Bay Area News via Getty Images

By Courtney Lindwall

Coined in the 1970s, the classic Earth Day mantra "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" has encouraged consumers to take stock of the materials they buy, use, and often quickly pitch — all in the name of curbing pollution and saving the earth's resources. Most of us listened, or lord knows we tried. We've carried totes and refused straws and dutifully rinsed yogurt cartons before placing them in the appropriately marked bins. And yet, nearly half a century later, the United States still produces more than 35 million tons of plastic annually, and sends more and more of it into our oceans, lakes, soils, and bodies.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Rise and Resist activist group marched together to demand climate and racial justice. Steve Sanchez / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Alexandria Villaseñor

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

My journey to becoming an activist began in late 2018. During a trip to California to visit family, the Camp Fire broke out. At the time, it was the most devastating and destructive wildfire in California history. Thousands of acres and structures burned, and many lives were lost. Since then, California's wildfires have accelerated: This past year, we saw the first-ever "gigafire," and by the end of 2020, more than four million acres had burned.

Read More Show Less
Trending
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a pair of climate-related secretarial orders on Friday, April 16. U.S. Department of the Interior

By Jessica Corbett

As the Biden administration reviews the U.S. government's federal fossil fuels program and faces pressure to block any new dirty energy development, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland won praise from environmentalists on Friday for issuing a pair of climate-related secretarial orders.

Read More Show Less
David Attenborough narrates "The Year Earth Changed," premiering globally April 16 on Apple TV+. Apple

Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.

Read More Show Less

By Michael Svoboda

For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.

Read More Show Less