Map of Moon’s Water: New Study Uncovers Details of Water Distribution Near Its South Pole

Map of Moon’s Water: This work was done in partnership with German Space Agency DLR and covers roughly one quarter of Earth-facing side below 60 degrees latitude on both sides, reaching as far south as South Pole. Through their observations, researchers were able to distinguish how water behaves on different lunar features by staying away from sunlight and favoring cold areas.

Map of Moon’s Water
A visualization of SOFIA data measuring a signal or “light signature” of water overlaid on a visualization of the Moon as it appeared at the time of the observations in Feb. 2022. Darker blue indicates a higher concentration of water. Near the top left of the studied region, a ridge is visible in dark blue, where the water is particularly concentrated on the shady side of a steep lunar feature. Halfway down the left side of the region is Moretus Crater. The inner wall on the crater’s upper half is clearly delineated in dark blue, indicating a greater presence of water on this shady surface. Although the right side of the region is drier overall, water can still be seen tracing the insides of craters in light blue.
Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio/Ernie Wright

This discovery is essential for space exploration, particularly around the Moon’s South Pole where NASA plans to land their Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) in late 2024. The rover will conduct Earth’s first resource mapping mission beyond Earth. Water (Map of Moon’s Water) on the Moon exists in soil as either ice crystals or molecules chemically bound together with other materials.

The study also revealed that the Moon contains far more water than previously believed. NASA had identified 13 potential landing regions near the lunar South Pole, and Artemis program hopes to establish a long-term human presence there. Lunar water could be an invaluable resource for this endeavor.

Watch Video: Map of Moon’s Water Near Its South Pole

A new study using the now-retired Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has pieced together the first detailed, wide-area map of water distribution on the Moon. The new map covers about one-quarter of the Earth-facing side of the lunar surface below 60 degrees latitude and extends to the Moon’s South Pole. In this data visualization, SOFIA’s lunar water observations are indicated using color, with blue representing areas of higher water signal, and brown less.
Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio/Ernie Wright

Researchers compared data around the Moon’s South Pole with that collected near its equator to see how water abundance varied. They noticed more water on shadowed sides of craters and mountains, suggesting that local geography plays a significant role in determining how much liquid exists on the surface.

The study raises new questions about where the Moon’s water originates, whether it is ancient and embedded in its minerals due to early volcanic processes on the Moon or contemporary and delivered by asteroids, comets or solar wind. VIPER will endeavor to better understand this distinction – which determines if there is widespread subsurface water or only scattered near or at its surface.

The study’s findings have significant ramifications for future space exploration and human settlement on the Moon. Water is essential to life on Earth, making its presence on the Moon an attractive prospect and potentially more cost-effective to establish a long-term lunar base.

Furthermore, this map of water (Map of Moon’s Water) distribution provides vital data to NASA’s Artemis program which seeks to send women of color and the first woman astronaut to space by 2024.

Researchers involved in the study are continuing to analyze SOFIA observations of other sites relevant for future missions.

For instance, Lunar Trailblazer will orbit the Moon to map (Map of Moon’s Water) its hydroxyl and water content, while VIPER is set to land near that same region studied by SOFIA late 2024 to conduct its first resource mapping mission beyond Earth. These and other missions will further our knowledge of Moon’s water resources and its potential uses for space exploration.

Latest Science News