When NASA announced last week that it had made an “exciting new discovery” about the moon, and then told us it was withholding its new knowledge for five entire days, we denounced the waiting period as cruel and unbearable. Well, congratulations to us all — we have reached the end of our collective suffering. Early this afternoon, NASA made its long-awaited announcement, which can be summarized aptly: She (the moon) is wet (covered in water).
Now to those who have long been big moon nerds, this discovery — which is detailed in a study in the journal Nature Astronomy, published today — may not initially seem all that revelatory. While the moon was once believed to be dry as a desert, in the past few decades, scientists have found evidence of H2O and ice on the moon’s surface, limited to the colder, shadowy regions. The moon’s sunlit areas, scientists previously surmised, may not be able to sustain water. “Without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface should just be lost to space,” Casey Honniball, the study’s lead researcher, said in NASA’s news release.
Lo and behold, the moon has proven she can sustain wetness elsewhere — including in her sunnier regions. According to the study, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, detected water molecules in the moon’s Clavius crater, either preserved among grains of moon dust or within glass beads. “We had indications that H2O — the familiar water we know — might be present on the sunlit side of the moon,” said Paul Hertz, the director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate. “Now we know it is there.”
As NASA teased in its announcement, this study — taken alongside a second study published today in Nature Astronomy, which postulates that water-ice could be trapped in little pockets all over the moon — does indeed contribute to is “efforts to learn about the moon in support of deep space exploration.” At this very moment, NASA is gearing up to send a woman (the first) and a man to the lunar surface in 2024, and has a long-term goal to establish “a sustainable human presence” on the moon by the end of the decade. (It’s already working toward installing 4G.)
NASA stresses that the amount of water detected by SOFIA is extremely small — the Sahara desert has 100 times the amount of water, in comparison — but the quantity is not the point. The moon’s wetness is not confined to her nether regions! Truly, a confirmed wet-ass planet.