What is NASAs Big News?
Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy CREDIT: NASA

What is NASAs Big News?

23/10/2020Written by Malika Andress

NASA has called a press conference to share details of an “exciting new discovery” regarding the Moon.

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At 17:00 on Monday 26 October NASA will live stream on their website, a “new discovery (that) contributes to NASA’s efforts to learn about the Moon in support of deep space exploration”.

But what could it be? We asked our experts and here is what they said…

“I am going to guess that, since SOFIA is an infrared telescope, it is confirmation supporting the existence of transient lunar phenomenon (TLP) outgassing events from the lunar crust”.

Research pilot Elizabeth Ruth is the only female pilot who flies the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or Sofia, is the world’s largest airborne observatory, a modified 747 that flies high in the atmosphere to provide its nearly 9-foot telescope with a clear view of the universe and objects in our solar system.

Flying above 99% of the atmosphere’s obscuring water vapor, SOFIA observes in infrared wavelengths and can pick up phenomenon impossible to see with visible light.

This map displays an approximate distribution of transient lunar phenomena. It is based on a monochrome map by Barbara Middlehurst and Patrick Moore.

A transient lunar phenomenon (TLP) or lunar transient phenomenon (LTP) is a short-lived light, colour or change in appearance on the surface of the Moon. The term was created by Patrick Moore, but claims of short-lived lunar phenomena go back at least 1,000 years, with some having been observed independently by multiple witnesses or reputable scientists.

Nevertheless, the majority of transient lunar phenomenon reports are irreproducible and do not possess adequate control experiments that could be used to distinguish among alternative hypotheses to explain their origins.

"Is it water?"

On 24 September 2009, it was reported that the NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) spectrometer onboard India’s ISRO Chandrayaan-1 probe had detected absorption features on the surface of the Moon.

On 14 November 2008, India made the Moon Impact Probe onboard Chandrayaan-1 orbiter crash into Shackleton crater and confirmed the presence of water ice.

In August 2018, NASA confirmed that M3 showed water ice is present on the surface at the Moon poles.

The search for the presence of lunar water has attracted considerable attention and motivated several recent lunar missions, largely because of water’s usefulness in rendering long-term lunar habitation feasible.

The idea that the press conference could relate to water on the Moon, is supported by the participation in the event by one of the panel of experts, Casey Honniball, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.

“She co-led a large-scale survey of the mid-IR hydration properties of lunar surface using the SPeX cross-dispersed spectrograph at the NASA InfraRed Telescope Facility (IRTF). She led and participated in 37 observing runs with 16 of those runs as P.I. of the project. Dr. Honniball originated the project to use the NASA/DLR Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) to search for the 6 µm molecular water signature on the lunar surface and has had two observing runs on SOFIA with 20 more hours planned.”

As Dr Casey is currently working on a project that is an “Investigation of water at pyroclastic deposits on the Earth and Moon using new data sets and techniques”, the water vote may win the day.

We will be watching and update you all on Monday.