NASA’s finding of water on sunlit side of moon builds on research from Chandrayaan-1


mosaic of the moon's north polar region
A high resolution mosaic of the moon’s north polar region taken by scientists using cameras aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter .(Reuters File)

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (Sofia) on Monday confirmed the presence of water on the sunlit surface of the moon. The water was detected in the Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth, indicating the water is present across the lunar surface and not restricted to the cold, shadowed places.

This discovery—if the water is easily accessible—would help in the US mission Artemis that plans to send humans to the moon again by 2024. No human has been on the moon since 1972; there were six Apollo missions that sent humans to moon.

The second race for lunar exploration was prompted by India’s first mission to moon—Chandrayaan-1—which is credited with the discovery of water ice or a chemical relative hydroxyl (OH). Twelve years ago, on November 14, India dropped an impactor probe from its satellite in the lunar orbit. The probe—which had a spectrometer on board—detected the presence of molecules with oxygen and hydrogen bonding in the atmosphere, close to the surface and in the samples at the surface that were dug out as the probe crashed on moon. The crash site is now known as Jawahar Sthal, in honour of the first Prime Minister of India.

The findings of India’s Moon Impactor Probe were confirmed by another NASA instrument on-board Chandrayaan-1 called the Moon Minerology Mapper.

After the discovery, it was believed that water was most likely available on the surface of the moon in the form of water ice in the shadowed regions near the pole. India’s impactor probe had hit the lunar surface close to the Southern pole.

This was the reason why a region near the South Pole was selected for India’s subsequent moon mission—Chandrayaan-2—which was to land a rover and a lander. The lander-rover crashed onto the lunar surface when it was just 2.1km away. India now plans to send another lander-rover mission to the moon before attempting a sample collection mission.