NASA has announced that water has been found on the surface of the Moon for the first time.
The American space agency hosted a teleconference at 4pm GMT today in which four NASA explained the incredible new findings, just weeks after revealing plans to develop a "sustainable human presence" on the Moon.
The discovery was made using the SOFIA Telescope, the world's largest flying observatory.
The water is on the sunlit surface of the Moon. This discovery indicates that water may be distributed across the lunar surface, and not limited to cold, shadowed places.
Water is a precious resource in deep space and a key ingredient of life as we know it. Whether the water SOFIA found is easily accessible for use as a resource remains to be determined. NASA said that under its Artemis program they are eager to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon by the end of the decade.
In a statement, NASA said: "This new discovery contributes to NASA's efforts to learn about the Moon in support of deep space exploration.
"Under NASA's Artemis program, the agency will send the first woman and next man to the lunar surface in 2024 to prepare for our next giant leap - human exploration of Mars as early as the 2030s."
SOFIA detected water molecules (H2O) in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth, located in the Moon's southern hemisphere. Previous observations of the Moon's surface detected some form of hydrogen, but were unable to distinguish between water and its close chemical relative, hydroxyl (OH).
The briefing included Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Casey Honniball, postdoctoral fellow at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre and Naseem Rangwala, project scientist for the SOFIA mission, NASA's Ames Research Centre.
"We had indications that H2O - the familiar water we know - might be present on the sunlit side of the Moon," said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Now we know it is there. This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about resources relevant for deep space exploration."
NASA explained: "As the world's largest airborne observatory, SOFIA is 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."
NASA also reiterated plans to land the first woman on the moon in 2024.