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Astronomers found Water on Moon

By Devesh Sharma

November 5, 2020
Water on Moon

Water on Moon? Sounds peculiar right?

Recently, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), for the first time, confirmed water on the sunlit surface of the Moon.

This discovery indicates that water may be distributed across the lunar surface and not limited to the cold polar regions and the shadowed places.

clavius crater of moon, the place where traces of water molecules were detected
Clavius crater of the Moon, the place where traces of water molecules were detected.

Water on the Moon is not a new thing; we already found water molecules at the moon’s south pole with the help of ISRO’s Chandrayaan-1 and NASA, back on 14 November 2008.

ISRO’s Chandrayaan-3 is also up to attempting a soft landing on the lunar south pole on 23 August, with the powered descent scheduled at 17:45 or 5:45 pm IST.

Investigating the presence of water on the Moon is a part of Chandrayaan-3’s mission objectives.

Although there’s still a dispute over who should have the credit for the discovery, ISRO insists that they confirmed the presence of water 3 months earlier than NASA.

It is claimed that the water on Moon was brought by asteroids that crashed on the moon billions of years ago.

Still, since the moon lacks an atmosphere and a magnetic field, most of the water evaporated into space due to the direct radiation from the sun falling over the surface.

The south and north pole regions were spared from the sunlight due to their geography and craters. So, sunlight never really reached there and hence provided the opportunity for water to rest there, in the form of ice.

Although there are lakes or reservoirs, most of the water on the Moon is still in the form of hydroxide combined with rocks along with some chunks of ice.

The abundance of water over the region is about 5.6 ± 2.9 percent by weight (weight percent %) or 100 to 412 parts per million – roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water.

NASA conducted many missions to get the actual map of water over the moon, and after many years of endeavor, they finally evaluated this map –

water on moon map
The image shows the distribution of surface ice at the Moon’s south pole (left) and north pole (right), detected by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument. Blue represents the ice locations, plotted over an image of the lunar surface, where the grayscale corresponds to surface temperature (darker representing colder areas and lighter shades indicating warmer zones). The ice is concentrated at the darkest and coldest locations, in the shadows of craters. This is the first time scientists have directly observed definitive evidence of water ice on the Moon’s surface. Credits: NASA

So, if we were to build a lunar base, we will have to build them near extreme locations like the polar regions, which doesn’t sound good as we might not get enough sunlight for our energy needs.

A recent discovery made by NASA provided us with some well-wishing hints. NASA found traces of water molecules in the Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth, located in the Moon’s southern hemisphere.

How did NASA discover water molecules on the Moon?

NASA organized this mission under the Artemis program to figure out the possibility of finding the water on the other places other than the polar regions so that they could decide landmarks for future missions.

NASA took the help of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy(SOFIA).


SOFIA is not like other telescopes located at some remote locations, and it’s an airborne 2.7-meter (106-inch) reflecting telescope mounted on the Boeing 747.

One of the major benefits of having such a telescope is that it can take up to very high altitudes where the atmosphere is less dense and atmospheric error decreases.

SOFIA the flying observatory
Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). You can see the telescope through the open gate in the fuselage of the Aircraft.

Also, it can be taken at various locations without any major difficulty. The observatory’s mobility allows the researchers to make observations from almost anywhere in the world.

It also enables the studies of transient events over oceans where there are no telescopes. The observatory has made its contribution to many studies –

  • Star Birth and Death
  • Formation of new Solar Systems
  • Observing planets, comets, and asteroids
  • Nebulas and galaxies
  • Black holes at the center of the Galaxy

SOFIA generally flies at an altitude of 45,000 feet so that it reaches above 99% of the water vapor in our atmosphere.

With its sensitive infrared camera, it was able to pick up specific wavelengths unique to the water molecules at 6.1 microns and discovered a relatively surprising water concentration in the sunny Clavius Crater.

What Does This Discovery Highlight About the Moon?

The discovery of water molecules in the sunlit area of the Moon surprised the scientists.

All this time, they expected that water in such a scenario as the Moon – must evaporate and blow away into space.

But as we have detected now, something must be forming the water on the surface, or they are trapped there somehow. Many theories have been proposed to solve this problem.

two lunar phases
By Jessie Eastland – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, (Why is Water on Moon important to us?

The last time humans went on the Moon was the 7th of December 1972 during Apollo 17, and since then, no one has ever gone to Moon.

One of the main reasons for this was that the Americans lost interest in exploring the Moon, as they had nothing more to do.


To them, the Moon seemed a borne desert; they thought there was no water or anything more exciting on the Moon. Water on the moon is necessary to promote extra-terrestrial exploration and research.

Artemis Base Camp

The biggest problem in this direction was that the astronauts need to stay over there for a longer duration, and water is the most important resource.

It requires about more than $10,000 to send per kilogram object on Moon. Transporting water to the moon will add a huge amount of expense and increase the mission’s difficulty.

So, the presence of water on the moon is really important to us. Water can be used for drinking(obviously), irrigation, and even for generating rocket fuels for deep space travel.

It’s essential to have water on the Moon initially, and it seems that we got lucky. Once we set up a lunar base, it will pave the entrance for Deep Space explorations.

And one day, we will ferry the whole Solar System expanding our understanding of the Universe to the extent that no one could have imagined ever.