The space agency did not reveal details about the discovery, but said that it “contributes to Nasa’s efforts to learn about the Moon in support of deep space exploration”.
It also said that the discovery had come from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or Sofia.
Sofia is a modified Boeing 747 that flies higher than much of the atmosphere, allowing its built-in, 9-foot telescope to get a clear view of our solar system and the broader universe. The plane is able to get up above 99 per cent of the atmosphere’s water vapour, which normally obscures our view of space.
The telescope instruments at the centre of the flying observatory gather infrared light, meaning it can “pick up phenomenon impossible to see with visible light”, Nasa noted in its announcement.
While it spends much of its time looking deeper into space, exploring distant planetary systems and the birth and death of faraway stars, it has revealed important information about other objects in our own solar system. In 2016, for instance, it observed atomic oxygen in Mars’s atmosphere for the first time in 40 years.
Nasa’s notice of the event made heavy reference to the Artemis programme, which hopes to send the first woman and next man to the Moon in 2024, with the hope of using it as a base to launch missions to Mars from the 2030s. They will be the first people to set foot on the Moon since 1972.
The briefing will be attended by Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at Nasa’s Headquarters, further suggesting that the discovery is at least applicable to the space agency’s plans to travel to – and live on – the Moon.
As well as Dr Bleacher, the event will be attended by Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director at NASA Headquarters; Casey Honniball, postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; and Naseem Rangwala, project scientist for the SOFIA mission.
The event will take place at noon eastern time, or 5pm in the UK, on Monday, 26 October, Nasa said. Audio will be streamed live on its website.
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