The existence of water on the moon has for years been a million-dollar question. Being the closest celestial body to the Earth, the Moon has been of great importance to scientists and governments alike.
The presence of water could very easily change the value of real estate on our friendly ball of cheese in the night sky. The Apollo 11 mission by NASA was the first manned mission to the moon in the year 1979. The very next year the USSR landed the first rover on the surface of the moon called Lunokhod 1.
The race to colonise the moon had begun with the US and the Russians in the lead. But the fact remains that water is the most important commodity in any colonisation project, the absence of which would stop the project in its tracks.
Unlike our planet, the moon has no atmosphere of its own, thus making it impossible to hold water on the surface. Or so scientists were led to believe. The first indication of water on the moon in the form of solid ice came in the 1990s. Spacecraft orbiting the moon picked up indications of the frozen find in the inaccessible craters at the poles of the moon.
With advances in space exploration and technology, the evidence of water on the lunar surface would solidify further.
The next significant breakthrough came in 2009 when India launched its much famed Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. The scientists at ISRO managed to pull this feat off with a record low budget, making it a big sensation. The instruments onboard the Chandrayaan were able to pick up reflected light signatures that resembled that of water.
In spite of all this, it was difficult to be certain if the signature was that of water or that of hydroxyl compounds found in minerals on the surface.
The biggest breakthrough came recently when a group of scientists at NASA’s ASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, USA, detected an irrefutable signature that proved the presence of water on the surface of the moon.
The scientists used the SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) to achieve this. This was a modified Boeing 747 aeroplane mounted with a 2.7 meter reflecting telescope.
H2O was discovered at the moon’s south pole. Data puts estimates at 100 to 400 parts per million (PPM) which comes to around 0.01% to 0.04%. Professor Mahesh Anand at the Open University in Milton Keynes believed that the estimated quantity was significant and could be extracted successfully under the right temperature and pressure.
The implications of this discovery could be limitless for all we know.
The discovery of water on the moon has gotten many space enthusiasts and scientists excited. This has opened up doors to a world of endless possibilities. It won’t be long before we get to make interplanetary travel a reality. It might almost be as normal as air travel as we know it today!
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