NASA discovers water on sunlit surface of the Moon

Shawn Knight

Posts: 12,698   +124
Staff member
Why it matters: Finding water on sunlit regions of the Moon could be key with regard to the long-term goal of establishing a presence on the lunar surface and put humanity one step closer to sending the first people to Mars.

NASA on Monday said it has, for the first time, discovered water on the sunlit surface of the Moon.

Scientists from NASA’s Ames Research Center, the University of Hawaii and Brown University in mid-2018 proved that water ice exists on the surface of the Moon, albeit at the poles and in lunar craters where sunlight never reaches.

Using its Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), NASA was able to detect water molecules in Clavius Crater, one of the Moon’s largest craters. It is visible from Earth in the Moon’s southern hemisphere.

The discovery more or less happened on accident. SOFIA, the world’s largest flying observatory, is a modified Boeing 747SP jetliner with a 106-inch diameter telescope. It typically peers deep into space to study star clusters and black holes but this time, operators decided to point it at the Moon to see if they could get any reliable data.

Studying the data, they found water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million, or about enough to fill a 12 ounce bottle of water, in a cubic meter of soil spread across the lunar surface.

Casey Honniball, lead author on the research, said that without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface should just be lost to space. “Yet somehow we’re seeing it. Something is generating the water, and something must be trapping it there.”

It's just one of many Moon mysteries that have baffled scientists in 2020.

Those interested in learning more are encouraged to check out the full report, which has been published in the latest issue of Nature Astronomy.

Masthead credit: Elena11

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QuantumPhysics

Posts: 3,750   +3,644
Water is simply Hydrogen and Oxygen fused by energy. It’s everywhere. It’s even in the rocks themselves.

I personally believe that the building blocks of simple life are already there- they just need the right circumstances and opportunity to begin to form: something that happens in a geologic and hydronic cycle within an oxygen rich atmosphere.

 

Squid Surprise

Posts: 3,567   +2,469
The moon is HUGE... we still haven't even discovered tons of stuff on our own planet - and we have billions of people living on it.

We aren't going to discover "everything" the moon has to offer for years and years... much like Mars...
 
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EClyde

Posts: 2,348   +915
Going to the moon ? I support the effort if it leads to new tech that makes life better on Earth...otherwise No
 

Avro Arrow

Posts: 394   +420
Here's a good reason to return to the moon...

We are literally millions of times more advanced than we were in the 60s but we've done sweet FA with our tech. Going to the moon now would be a cakewalk compared to the ginormous task that it was in the 60s. Huge mainframes back then were lucky to have 4K of (extremely slow) RAM. Now home computers generally have at least 2 million times more RAM than that and it's thousands, if not millions of times faster per byte. Just imagine what our modern servers and supercomputers must be like compared to theirs.

It's time to actually DO something with our tech and going to the moon won't be that hard.
 

DjoCoeur

Posts: 25   +13
There is too much radiations there to spend more than a couple of days on the moon. So, that water would be of little interest and could certainly not be drunk, but could eventually be useful in future missions for the hydrogen and oxygen it's made of.
The only way to spend a long time there would be to dig up a bunker many meters under the surface. That way, some of the radiation from the cosmic and sun rays would be blocked.
 
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Endymio

Posts: 1,102   +914
There is too much radiations there to spend more than a couple of days on the moon.
This isn't true. Radiation levels on the surface of the moon are about twice that of the ISS, and we've had some astronauts up there for years. A few weeks or even months would be no problem.

So, that water would be of little interest and could certainly not be drunk.
Again, not true. The radiation is primarily cosmic rays and solar particles; it's not neutron-based, and thus doesn't cause induced radioactivity.

EDIT: You are correct, though, that if we are considering long-term lunar habitation (I.e. multiple years), shielding a habitat with the lunar regolith is the way to go.
 
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DjoCoeur

Posts: 25   +13
This isn't true. Radiation levels on the surface of the moon are about twice that of the ISS, and we've had some astronauts up there for years. A few weeks or even months would be no problem.

Again, not true. The radiation is primarily cosmic rays and solar particles; it's not neutron-based, and thus doesn't cause induced radioactivity.

EDIT: You are correct, though, that if we are considering long-term lunar habitation (I.e. multiple years), shielding a habitat with the lunar regolith is the way to go.
The ISS is protected by the earth's magnetic field, so it's perfectly safe to be there for a long time. Not so on the moon where there is zero magnetic field and zero atmosphere. Spend a month or more there and you're pretty sure to get DNA damage leading to cancer. They know they have to shield the people there eventually, that's because they know there is dangerous levels of radiation if exposed for more than a few days.
 
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Endymio

Posts: 1,102   +914
The ISS is protected by the earth's magnetic field, so it's perfectly safe to be there for a long time.
No. Astronauts on the ISS average a dose of about 0.6 mSieverts per day. (some days much higher, of course). The lunar surface averages about 1.4 mSiev/day. A dose of 250 mSieverts will increase your lifetime cancer risk by roughly 1%, so an astronaut wholly unprotected on the moon could spend nearly five years there, and increase their cancer risk by only about 10%. Even going with the much more stringent IAEA standards, an astronaut would have to accumulate nearly three months of exposure, before exceeding guidelines.
 

Squid Surprise

Posts: 3,567   +2,469
There is too much radiations there to spend more than a couple of days on the moon. So, that water would be of little interest and could certainly not be drunk, but could eventually be useful in future missions for the hydrogen and oxygen it's made of.
The only way to spend a long time there would be to dig up a bunker many meters under the surface. That way, some of the radiation from the cosmic and sun rays would be blocked.
Well, since there's no breathable atmosphere, they'd have to be shielded anyways if they were to colonize long-term - I'm assuming walking around in space suits for years would be deemed unacceptable...

I'm waiting for a cool dome that lets millions live happily just like in the movies :)
 

JamesBlond

Posts: 32   +14
Here's a good reason to return to the moon...

We are literally millions of times more advanced than we were in the 60s but we've done sweet FA with our tech. Going to the moon now would be a cakewalk compared to the ginormous task that it was in the 60s. Huge mainframes back then were lucky to have 4K of (extremely slow) RAM. Now home computers generally have at least 2 million times more RAM than that and it's thousands, if not millions of times faster per byte. Just imagine what our modern servers and supercomputers must be like compared to theirs.

It's time to actually DO something with our tech and going to the moon won't be that hard.
Yes, we have million time better tech than 1972, and we have rockets capable of 6 x the speed, yet we have not gone to the moon.... I wonder why...maybe the Van Allen radiation belt
 
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mbrowne5061

Posts: 1,695   +966
Yes, we have million time better tech than 1972, and we have rockets capable of 6 x the speed, yet we have not gone to the moon.... I wonder why...maybe the Van Allen radiation belt
Flight trajectories to the moon usually bypass these belts for the most part, and only spend a few hours in them when unavoidable. The Apollo astronauts received higher doses on the surface of the moon than they did from the belts, which were still pretty low (less than the 50mSev yearly limit set by the US govt).
 
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Avro Arrow

Posts: 394   +420
The ISS is protected by the earth's magnetic field, so it's perfectly safe to be there for a long time. Not so on the moon where there is zero magnetic field and zero atmosphere. Spend a month or more there and you're pretty sure to get DNA damage leading to cancer. They know they have to shield the people there eventually, that's because they know there is dangerous levels of radiation if exposed for more than a few days.
It depends on where on the moon we go. If we land on the light side, then yeah, radiation is an issue. If we land on the dark side, it would take close to a month for it to face the sun. In that time, radiation-proof shelters could be built. It wouldn't be that hard because concrete is radiation-proof. Regardless, we have the tech to shield astronauts from radiation. Lining a space suit with lead won't be very encumbering when everything is light as a feather on the moon. Lead is also not very expensive and is very good at blocking high-frequency radiation like X-rays.

Blocking radiation isn't that hard. Things like lead, concrete and water are all very effective at blocking radiation.
 
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neeyik

Posts: 1,465   +1,620
Staff member
It's perhaps worth noting that in the Apollo 17 mission, Cernan and Schmitt spent 3 days on the Moon. The latter is still alive, whereas as the former lived to the age of 82. With Apollo 16, they spent just under 3 days on the surface, and Young lived to 87 and Duke to 85. Isolated examples, for sure, but there's much other data to go on.

While these surface missions were only a few days, the lander module wasn't made from concrete nor even very thick metal; in fact they provided minimal radiation protection (as indicated by their experiences with light flashes). Modern landers are likely to provide far superior protection and automated craft can be used to put shelters on the surface too.
 

Endymio

Posts: 1,102   +914
It depends on where on the moon we go. If we land on the light side, then yeah, radiation is an issue. If we land on the dark side, it would take close to a month for it to face the sun. In that time, radiation-proof shelters could be built. It wouldn't be that hard because concrete is radiation-proof. Regardless, we have the tech to shield astronauts from radiation. Lining a space suit with lead won't be very encumbering when everything is light as a feather on the moon. Lead is also not very expensive and is very good at blocking high-frequency radiation like X-rays.

Blocking radiation isn't that hard. Things like lead, concrete and water are all very effective at blocking radiation.
A good post, but to correct a couple points: GCRs are the primary radiation source on the lunar surface, and thus are present even when on the "dark side". And while lead is good at shielding high-frequency EMR, it is very poor at blocking GCRs. For that, you want light nucleons, preferably hydrogen-rich materials like water or (as you state) even concrete.
 

mbrowne5061

Posts: 1,695   +966
Money.

People want to spend it elsewhere. Nothing more complex needs to be invoked.
And an aversion to failure; Americans just can't handle it. Apollo 1 nearly ended the entire manned space program. Challenger nearly ended the whole thing again, and Columbia ended the Space Shuttle program (specifically: got the ball rolling much faster). And Apollo 13 program re-energized the American public like nothing else, because 'certain disaster' was averted.

During the Cold War, America had to 'win' because the social perception of the day was that world politics was an 'all or nothing' affair. So it was better to simply avoid the areas you could not 'win' at, and stick to the ones you could. That has carried over to today, where any compromise, any amount of failure, is unacceptable - so avoid the whole thing all together.