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Discovery of water molecules by the Sophia Observatory

The moon is not dry!

About 410 years ago, when Galileo looked at the moon with his hand-held telescope, he was mistaken to see dark spots with flat surfaces. Galileo thought that these large spots were originally water reserves, hence the name of the sea. But with the advancement of knowledge and continuous observations, it became clear that the surface of the moon not only has no sea, but also no atmosphere to host liquid water, wind and rain. In 1969, when man first set foot on the surface of the moon, he found a dry world devoid of any signs of viability, and water was one of the most important signs of life that did not exist on the surface of the moon.

About 500 kg of lunar soil was brought to Earth and all samples were empty of water molecules. However, man’s desire to live in his celestial neighbor led scientists to search more closely, and in complete disbelief the new results were contrary to what had previously been thought. Although the moon, like the earth, is at a good distance from the sun, in the so-called life belt of the solar system, the weak gravity of the moon, which is about one-sixth of the earth, causes molecules to escape easily from the surface of the moon with little heat. Heat is actually the kinetic energy of molecules, and as a result of the warming of the moon’s surface, the molecules move and escape easily from the moon’s surface, so the moon can no longer host a stable atmosphere. On the other hand, the moon does not have a molten core, and as a result, there is no active magnetic field to prevent charged particles from hitting the surface of the moon like the earth. These charged particles, which are mostly the nuclei of hydrogen and helium atoms, disperse molecules or react chemically by colliding with gaseous molecules on the surface of the moon, such as playing billiards; As a result, the moon looks like a bare, empty atmosphere inside the telescopes. The lack of atmosphere has caused the temperature to rise to more than 100 degrees Celsius in the sun and at the same time the temperature to minus 60 degrees in the shade caused by the same sun. This extreme temperature difference is one of the biggest habitable challenges on the moon. However, due to the gravity and magnetic field of the molten and active core on Earth, a dynamic and life-giving atmosphere protects its surface, and in addition to preventing space objects from colliding with the surface, it helps create water pressure by absorbing heat from water molecules. Solidify into liquid and form seas and oceans. However, if we heat up a piece of ice on the surface of the moon, it quickly turns from solid to gas and in scientific terms, sublimation takes place. So if space comets – which are actually large icebergs orbiting the sun and sometimes colliding with planets – collide with the moon and scatter ice particles across the moon, there is still no hope for ice stability on the surface. Of course, the story is a little different in the depths of the impact craters, especially those in the northern and southern latitudes of the moon, where the sun practically never penetrates to their depths, and one can hope for more ice particles. Simply put, in these expansions the sun is a little higher than the horizon, and inside the deep pit the sun never shines. As a result, these places are always cold and their temperature does not exceed minus 60 degrees Celsius. This led scientists to explore these areas for 10 years from 2008 and finally in 2018 to find attractive signs of the presence of significant masses of ice in these places. But in a recent study, NASA used a telescope mounted on the Sophia Plane, which works in the infrared spectrum, to detect water molecules on the surface of the moon. Signs found using the telescope confirm that more water than previously thought is present in warmer parts of the moon, which are exposed to sunlight and only a few centimeters deep in the soil. This study was carried out near one of the crescent craters of the moon called the Clavius ​​Crater, which is one of the largest observable craters on Earth, and identified water molecules (H2O) scattered. It is noteworthy that the measurements made show the amount of water in the southern offerings more than the northern offerings of the moon. In other words, water in these areas is trapped as frozen moisture between soil particles and microscopic cavities in rocks. Interestingly, previous observations showed a surface of hydrogen, but were unable to distinguish between water and a similar chemical (OH). But a special study by the Sofia Air Observatory showed the length of the infrared wave emitted from the water. “Before Sophia’s observations, we knew there was some kind of hydration, but we did not know how much water molecule it would contain and if drinkable or not,” said Casey Hannibal of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “We have had signs in the past that H2O may be in the bright moon,” said Paul Hertz, NASA’s head of astrophysics. We now know that such a thing really exists. “This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises significant questions about the resources involved in deep space exploration.”

The possible source of this water is highly debated. According to some scientists, like the planet Earth billions of years ago, the collision of comets and stray dust particles that have trapped water molecules in their structure could be one of the reasons for the existence of water in these areas. But others believe that solar storms, which contain hydrogen charged particles, can produce water molecules in response to chemical elements in the moon’s bedrock, which are rich in silica and oxygen. However, both of these are highly controversial. A small bottle of water per cubic meter may seem like a lot, but it is interesting to know that the soil of the African desert, which is one of the driest parts of the earth, is a hundred times wetter than this amount! It can be said that to fill a hundred-liter barrel of water on the surface of the moon, we need to destroy a mountain. The value of this discovery is remarkable in that it facilitates human habitation and the establishment of bases on the moon compared to the past, but it will also bring new problems. “Enough water is important for future exploration of the lunar surface and for a stable human presence,” said Jacob Bleacher, a senior exploration scientist at NASA’s Office of Exploration and Human Operations. It will also significantly reduce the cost of future exploration, and it remains to be seen how much future research will help discover water. It can be said that in areas where sunlight and energy production will be available, we will have easy access to water resources, and there will be no need to send water from the ground or travel hundreds of kilometers on the surface of the moon to supply a few liters of water. Of course, the uses of water will be more than meeting the living needs of astronauts or daily washing. By decomposing the chemical structures of water, clean and low-cost fuel energy of hydrogen machines can be provided. He also established greenhouses to facilitate the production of oxygen and even food for astronauts. This, along with the fact that water can be recovered and used as a space station on multiple occasions, could give more hope for astronauts and long-term human groups to live on the moon. However, extracting water on the moon still seems difficult and expensive, and it can be expected that water on the moon will be more expensive than gold on earth. The findings are published in the latest issue of Nature Astronomy.

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