According to the latest dispatch from NASA, the space agency has an “exciting new discovery about the Moon” coming on Monday 26 October.
Curiously, the new results are courtesy of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). It’s the world’s largest airborne observatory, and is actually a Boeing 747SP plane with a hole cut out in it, modified to carry a large reflecting telescope.
Unlike Earth-bound telescopes, SOFIA soars some 11 kilometres (38,000 ft) above the ground, high in our planet’s stratosphere. Here, the observatory can rise above the 99 percent of the atmosphere that blocks infrared wavelengths, allowing it to study the infrared Universe.
It’s certainly a busy plane. SOFIA’s instruments have previously delivered a landmark detection of oxygen in the Martian atmosphere, the first detection of a molecular bond in space, and countless infrared measurements that have illuminated exoplanet collisions, the hearts of galaxies, and much more – including this stunning infrared view of the centre of our own Milky Way, below.
This time, the observatory has turned its sights much closer to home. The “new discovery contributes to NASA’s efforts to learn about the Moon in support of deep space exploration”, the agency states.
Participants of the media briefing include Naseem Rangwala from NASA’s Ames Research Center who is a project scientist for the SOFIA mission, and Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA.
We’ll find out more about the discovery on Monday, but NASA makes it clear it will have some bearing on the Artemis program – the ambitious plan to send humans back to the lunar surface in 2024 as a waypoint to start exploration of Mars in the 2030s.
The audio briefing will be streamed live on the agency’s website at 12:00 pm EDT on Monday 26 October.
And, of course, we’ll be sharing more information as soon as the announcement is made, so watch this space!