Nasa’s SOFIA observatory discovers water on the sunlit surface of the moon


Nasa’s SOFIA or Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy is used as a mobile location to explore space with a closer look. Photo Credit: Jim Ross, NASA

Denis Ilksoy

The future of technology and the human race lies among the stars. This knowledge has  helped the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, more commonly known as NASA, make recent strides to better understand not only what is beyond the solar system but also what is right on the Earth’s back doorstep, figuratively speaking.


The moon has long been a testament to human achievement in space travel. Since July 1969, the moon has been heavily studied for prospects such as space mining, further exploration, and even habitation. However, it remained a barren mass with no oxygen, vegetation, or water, until now. It has been known that water in the form of ice has been discovered deep under the crust of the moon and the more distant planet, Mars. Extracting this ice, however, is a very difficult task as it is located at the poles of the moon where “the warmest temperature never sees above 250 F degrees,” according to NASA.


Luckily, thanks to the modified Boeing 747SP aircraft, dubbed SOFIA, NASA was able to successfully make groundbreaking discoveries hidden in the sunlit side of the moon. Because of SOFIA’s ability to cruise 45,000 feet through the stratosphere, a 2.7 meter infrared telescope is able to pierce the infrared-blocking atmosphere and detect what cannot be seen with the naked eye. This includes star births and deaths, celestial magnetic fields, identification of complex molecules in space, and more importantly, liquid water hidden in the surface of the moon.


According to, “Data from this location reveal water in concentrations roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water – trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread across the lunar surface.” Not only is this water in an easily-harvestable liquid state, but it is located on the sunlit part of the lunar surface, much higher than the ice found in the depths of the moon. 


So what does this mean for the progression of space exploration? At an initial glance it may only seem like mere drinking water or water for vegetation, but the true uses for water span far beyond just that. Water as we know it consists of two elements- oxygen and hydrogen. The first we all know well as the very substance that passes through our lungs every few seconds. Separating the oxygen from the water molecules can be resourceful for future habitants of the lunar environment as a sustainable method of getting air. For the second part of water, hydrogen, a more technical problem can be solved. Hydrogen, along with being the first element on the periodic table, serves as a potent ingredient in rocket fuel. This means many things in terms of the prosperity of space. Not only can the moon effectively function as a lunar habitat but also as a rocket refuelling or even manufacturing station. Allowing rockets to refuel on the surface of the moon is the next step to space exploration.


This discovery of liquid water is monumental for the future of outer space travel and through extension, the future of humankind itself.