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There May Be Far More Water on the Moon Than NASA Thought

Added 10-26-20 01:06:02pm EST - “A new pair of studies reveals that the resource isn't limited to large shadowy craters. That's good news for the upcoming crewed missions.” - Wired.com

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Posted By TheNewsCommenter: From Wired.com: “There May Be Far More Water on the Moon Than NASA Thought”. Below is an excerpt from the article.

In 2024, NASA plans to put fresh boot prints on the moon for the first time in more than 50 years. Unlike the Apollo missions, which spent at most a few days on the lunar surface, this time the agency wants the crew to stick around. Establishing a sustained human presence on the moon will mean learning how to live off the land, a tall order in such a hostile and desolate environment. NASA has plans for the astronauts to build shelters out of moon dirt and to use urine as fertilizer. But a big unknown is how much water they’ll have to work with.

They’ll need water for life support, and—broken down into its constituent elements, hydrogen and oxygen—to make rocket fuel. NASA has known for years that the moon harbors a substantial amount of water ice at its poles. The problem is that a lot of the ice detected at the pole is located at the bottom of large craters where the combination of extremely low temperatures, rugged terrain, and the lack of sunlight will create all sorts of problems for the robotic explorers that will be tasked with finding and harvesting it. But two papers published in Nature Astronomy today suggest that there may be far more water on the moon than previously thought and that it isn’t limited to the large permanently shadowed regions of the moon’s south pole.

In late 2018, a team of researchers led by Casey Honniball, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Goddard Flight Center, used a 747 jumbo jet that the agency had converted into an astronomical observatory to search for water on the moon. The high-flying observatory, called Sofia, or the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is equipped with unique instruments to remotely survey the lunar surface at infrared wavelengths that can reveal the presence of water. Honniball focused her observations on Clavius, the second-largest crater on the near side of the moon, located in its southern hemisphere. She discovered water molecules spread across the crater, even in its sunlit portions.

“Molecular water was not believed to be able to survive on the lunar surface,” Honniball told reporters during a press conference on Friday evening. Prior to her observations, scientists thought that water could only endure on the surface when it was caught in cold traps, permanently shadowed regions of the moon where temperatures never rise above –200 degrees Fahrenheit. They thought that any molecular water—that is, H~2~O in small enough concentrations that it can’t be considered a solid, a liquid, or a gas—that isn’t in the shadows would either be destroyed by radiation or heated up so that it bounced across the surface until it eventually reached a cold trap and froze as water ice. “Now we definitely know that molecular water is present on the moon,” she said.

Honniball’s data shows that water can survive outside the shadowed regions, albeit in a different form. Instead of ice, she says the data suggests that the molecules are trapped in glassy regolith, which shields them from the harsh lunar environment. “The temperature of the lunar area we observed was at about 25 degrees Celsius [77 degrees Fahrenheit], and no form of water is stable in a vacuum at those temperatures,” says Paul Lucey, a planetary scientist at the University of Hawaii and a coauthor of the paper. “The water has to be trapped somehow in order for us to see it.” The big question is how the water came to be trapped in these grains in the first place.

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