NASA’s SOFIA telescope was retired in late 2022, mainly due to budget issues. The telescope was mounted aboard an adapted Boeing 747 that would fly to an altitude of up to 42,000 ft (12,800 m). This took it above roughly 99.9 percent of the water vapor on Earth, which would otherwise block much of the infrared light captured by the observatory.
Now, the new map compiled using SOFIA data covers roughly one-quarter of the Earth-facing side of the lunar surface below 60 degrees latitude, including the moon’s South Pole.
Using the new data, the scientists were able to determine how water is linked to specific surface features on the moon as well as how it favors cold areas and stays away from sunlight.
In 2024, NASA aims to send its first crewed Artemis mission, Artemis II, around the moon and back. In the same year, the space agency will also send its Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) rover to the moon’s surface to conduct resource mapping. It will utilize the SOFIA map as a guide.
That will then pave the way for Artemis III and following astronaut missions to the lunar surface. Ultimately, NASA aims to establish a permanent colony on the moon that will serve as a stepping stone for future human exploration of Mars. The new SOFIA map will serve a crucial role by helping determine areas future missions should focus on for water, which can also be converted into breathing oxygen and rocket propellant.
According to nasa