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Finding of water on the Moon leads to rethink chemical processes

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 5 nov 2020, 6:47 por Plataforma Sites Dgac
Scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced on Monday, October 26, the discovery of water on the illuminated surface of the Moon, that is, on the face that is visible from the Earth.
The Clavius Crater, at the Southern hemisphere of the Moon, where scientists detected the presence of water molecules.

SOFIA, the telescope that was mounted on a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft that made the discovery.
The discovery was confirmed by the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a 106-inch diameter telescope mounted on a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft that flies up to 45,000 feet, above 99% of the water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere to get a clearer view of the infrared universe.

“We had indications that H2O – the familiar water we know – might be present on the sunlit side of the Moon”, said 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”, he added.

Using its Faint Object infraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST), SOFIA was able to pick up the specific wavelength unique to water molecules, at 6.1 microns, and discovered a relatively surprising concentration in sunny Clavius Crater, in the southern hemisphere of the Moon. 

The finding indicates that the water could be distributed throughout the lunar surface and that it is probably not only limited to cold places and in the shadows. 

Clavius Crater 

Previous observations of the lunar surface had detected some form of hydrogen, but had failed to distinguish whether it was water or its close chemical relative, hydroxyl (OH). 

“The discovery itself is important because even though it was already known that there is water on the Moon... the incredible thing about this discovery is that water molecules were found in areas of the Moon where they should have evaporated, because they are areas exposed to the sunrays. And the temperature is not cold enough to keep it frozen”, explained Robbie Barrera, a graduate in Physics and Mathematics from Santiago’s University (USACH) and a member of the Center for Astrophysics and Related Technologies (CATA). 

“So, it implies that, first, you have to rethink the processes. Maybe there is a chemical process that is generating H2O molecules. So if we can understand that process, we might be able, eventually, to harness it for future space bases. But for that we would have to understand the process very well”, Barrera said. 

Data from around the Clavius crater indicate water concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million, roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water, trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread across the lunar surface. The results were published in the most recent issue of the journal Nature Astronomy. 

As a comparison, the Sahara desert has 100 times the amount of water detected by SOFIA in the lunar soil. But despite the small amounts, the finding raises questions about how water is created and how it manages to persist on the lunar surface, which is devoid of air. 

Water is a vital resource in deep space and a key ingredient for life as we know it. Its presence is crucial to NASA’s Artemis program, which seeks to find out as much as it can about the matter before sending the first woman and the next man to walk on the Moon in 2024 and establishing a sustainable human presence there towards the end of the decade.