By Ben Warwick

BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – NASA has taken one giant leap toward the future of space exploration. Twin studies posted to the Nature Astronomy journal on Monday point to water found at the molecular level on the moon, and potentially more crystallized in ice on the dark side.

The announcement was made Monday by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

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Researcher Paul Hayne, a faculty member at the University of Colorado, Boulder, co-authored the second of the twin studies.

The first used SOFIA, or the NASA/DLR Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, which is a telescoped mounted on the inside of a modified Boeing 747SP. That plane flies between 38,000 and 45,000 feet – much higher than the standard passenger jet cruising altitude – and carries a massive airborne telescope used to view the Solar System in a way ground-based telescopes cannot. SOFIA and another NASA instrument, FORCAST, observed the signature of molecular water in various regions on the moon.

(credit: NASA)

“For the first time, water has been confirmed to be present on the sunlit surface of the moon,” said Paul Hertz, NASA’s Astrophysics Division director during Monday’s press conference.

The water is found inside and in between grains on the lunar surface, helping to protect it from the moon’s harsh environment.

The second study, co-authored by CU’s Paul Hayne, researches the existence of water in tiny ice patches, about the size of a penny, on the dark side of the Moon’s surface.

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(CNN)

“If you can imagine standing on the surface of the moon near one of its poles, you would see shadows all over the place,” Hayne, lead study author and assistant professor in the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder, in a statement to CNN. “Many of those tiny shadows could be full of ice.”

Researchers found that regions at both of the Moon’s polar regions could contain many of these “cold traps.” It’s estimated there are roughly 15,000 square miles of permanently shadowed traps that could preserve ice.

The water, likely found under the surface, could be refined for drinking water, rocket fuel, and anything else astronauts and researchers could need water for on a future lunar base.

NASA is planning on landing humans on the moon again as early as 2024 as part of the Artemis program. In 2022, NASA is planning to launch the Lunar Compact Infrared Imaging System to capture heat-sensing panoramic images of the surface. Hayne is leading that project.

 

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Ben Warwick