SOFIA discovers Molecular Water on the Moon

October 26, 2020 / Andrea Mayer-Grenu, Dörte Mehlert, Matthias Langer

For the first time, the flying observatory SOFIA has provided direct unambiguous evidence of water molecules on the Moon outside the permanent shadow at the Moon's poles.
[Picture: NASA/Ames Research Center/Daniel Rutter]

SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, provides the basis for the water supply for future space missions with the detection of water molecules on the moon.

The infrared observatory of the U.S. space agency NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) succeeded in detecting the molecules in the southern hemisphere of the Moon with the FORCAST (Faint Object InfraRed CAmera for the SOFIA-Telescope) instrument. The results of the scientific research work were published in the scientific journal Nature Astronomy on October 26th, 2020. SOFIA’s scientific operation is coordinated on the German side by the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

The amount of water discovered by SOFIA is roughly equivalent to the content of a 0.33 Liter beverage can, distributed in one cubic meter of soil. "That's less than in the deserts of our Earth," explains Reinhold Ewald, European astronaut and professor at the Institute of Space Systems (IRS) at the University of Stuttgart. "But resourceful life-support systems such as those we are developing and researching in the field of astronautics and space stations at the IRS could produce some of the resources we will need for future astronautical space missions.”

To explore the phenomenon of water on the Moon in more detail, SOFIA will observe the sunlit areas during different phases of the Moon. The scientists hope that this will provide new insights into how water is produced and stored and how it is distributed across the lunar surface. These data will be helpful for planning future lunar missions

The detailed article is available on the website of the German SOFIA Institute (DSI):


Original publication:

Molecular water detected on the sunlit Moon by SOFIA, C. I. Honniball et al. Nature Astronomy, 26. Oktober 2020 (DOI: 10.1038/s41550-020-01222-x)

Professional Contact:

Prof. Dr. Alfred Krabbe, Deutsches SOFIA Institut am Institut für Raumfahrtsysteme der Universität Stuttgart, Tel.: +49 711 685-62406, E-Mail

Casey I. Honniball (Autorin), Ph.D., NASA Post-Doctoral Program Fellow, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, E-Mail:

Press Contact:

Dörte Mehlert, Universität Stuttgart, Deutsches SOFIA Institut, Tel: +49 711-685-69632, E-Mail:

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