On Monday, the US space agency NASA announced its scientists had “for the first time” discovered water on the sunlit surface of the moon. However, the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 probe made the discovery in 1976 – a find totally ignored by Western scientists.
According to NASA, scientists at the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) detected water molecules (H2O) in Clavius Crater, on the moon’s southern hemisphere. The report notes the concentration to be roughly 100 to 412 parts per million, or the equivalent of a 12-ounce water bottle in a cubic meter of soil. That’s 100 times less moisture than can be found in the Sahara Desert.
“We had indications that H2O – the familiar water we know – might be present on the sunlit side of the Moon,” Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, said in the news release. “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.”
One paper published in 1978 in Geokhimiia (Geochemistry), the monthly scientific journal of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, pretty definitively declared it had discovered water on the lunar surface in the Mare Crisium crater. While it’s titled “Possible Water in Luna 24 Regolith from the Sea of Crises” in the English edition of the publication, the article by M.V. Akhmanova, B.V. Dementyev & M.N. Markov makes definitive claims about having discovered water.
The Soviet scientists went to great lengths to protect their samples from contamination once they returned to Earth – far more than the United States’ Apollo astronauts – but nonetheless, the Soviet trio “were not willing to stake their reputations on an absolute statement that terrestrial contamination was completely avoided,” though they noted they took “every possible precaution” to protect it, Crotts wrote in 2012.
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