Scientists have been turning up evidence for the existence of water on the moon for decades, but there’s always been a nagging doubt: Maybe the source of the chemical signatures of hydrogen and oxygen was hydrated minerals, rather than good old H2O.
Now those doubts have been eased, thanks to readings that have been picked up by the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, also known as SOFIA. The discovery, published today in Nature Astronomy is the subject of a highly anticipated NASA news briefing. (Sorry, it’s not about aliens.)
“This new discovery contributes to NASA’s efforts to learn about the moon in support of deep space exploration,” the space agency said.
The readings were gathered two years ago as the modified Boeing 747SP jet flew above 99% of Earth’s atmosphere — a strategy that made it possible to observe the moon in the right infrared wavelengths.
A research team led by Casey Honniball of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center analyzed the spectral characteristics of the infrared light in the 6-micron band, and identified a chemical signature that can be found only in molecular water rather than in hydrated minerals.
They estimate that the concentration of H2O at the surface is ...