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Water on the Moon could illuminate a new phase of history

Written by Science

The US space agency have confirmed the presence of water on the Moon.

Exciting revelations from NASA have identified water molecules in the sunlit area of the Moon, enhancing the potential for future human inhabitation.

Although previous searches have noted ice reserves in shadowed areas of the lunar surface, these places are uninhabitable to humans. This latest finding presents an exciting possibility for the development of human settlements on our celestial neighbour.

How was the lunar water found?

The latest discovery was detected by NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), an airborne infrared telescope that could pick up the defining colours of water molecules on the lunar surface.

Image credit: Neven Krcmarek via Unsplash

Could humans live on the Moon?

While the discovery is exciting, only 12 ounces of water were found in the lunar soil sample. To put it in perspective, this is 100 times less than would be expected from the same volume of Sahara Desert soil.

Limited availability of lunar water would present a challenge to supporting civilisations in the long term

While it is hoped that the discovery could be enough to sustain a human base on the lunar surface, the limited availability of lunar water would present a challenge to supporting civilisations in the long term.

However, a greater abundance of water than previously thought has promising implications for future developments. Speaking to BBC News about the discovery, Dr Hannah Sargeant, a planetary scientist from the Open University in Milton Keynes said “It gives us more options for potential water sources on the Moon…[this could] broaden the list of places we might want to build a base.”

“One giant leap” too far?

Despite the exciting prospect of a lunar base, concerns remain over human disruption. With the potential for humans to start afresh on our nearest satellite, the Moon could face a similar fate to our Earth if treated without care.

Dr Sargeant emphasises the importance of a “more sustainable way of doing space exploration,” with a particular focus on “using local resources – especially water.”

Cheaper spacecraft refuelling stations on the Moon are a tantalising prospect to space scientists and explorers

By using locked up water reserves in lunar ice, as well as the liquid water distributed across the Moon’s surface, hydrogen and oxygen may be made available for rocket fuel.

If we can work out how to extract these elements, having the Moon as a base for cheaper spacecraft refuelling stations is a tantalising prospect to space scientists and explorers alike.

This sentiment is captured by space scientist Ellen Stofan, “In our lifetime, we may very well finally answer whether we are alone in the solar system and beyond.’

With a 2024 mission to Mars already in the works, taking advantage of the Moon’s position could be the first step to exploring more of our solar system and understanding what lies within it.

The boundaries of space exploration are constantly shifting

Whether humans could inhabit the Moon on a permanent basis is yet to be seen. However, with humans proving they can live and work on the International Space Station for months at a time, the boundaries of space exploration are constantly shifting.

100 years ago, the thought of setting foot on the Moon would have felt impossible. With exciting new discoveries and advances in technology, who knows what lies ahead in the future of space travel?

Featured Image: Pixabay

Last modified: 31st October 2020

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