Hart High teacher on NASA flight that discovered water on moon

Kathryn Smith, William S.Hart High School science teacher who was on board the NASA SOFIA flight which discovered water on the surface of the moon. Photo Courtesy of the William S. Hart Union High School District.

A science teacher from Hart High School was on board a flight with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, which discovered water molecules on the moon.

Kathryn Smith had the chance to fly along with scientists aboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) flight in October of last year, which discovered water on the sunlit surface of the moon and suggests water molecules are distributed throughout the rest of the moon’s surface.

“I was so very impressed by the professionalism of everyone onboard, the teamwork they showcased, and the massive amounts of critical thinking they displayed under the pressure of a time crunch,” Smith said in a news release. “I will never forget the high-pitched celebrations coming from those graduate students as they started to unpack the meaning behind their fresh data. That is what real science is all about.”

Smith is one of 13 teachers from the William S. Hart Union High School District who have been a part of SOFIA flights since 2017. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institution for the NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador program gives teachers the opportunity to fly with scientists from NASA and input their experiences into their school curriculum.

The SOFIA flight had detected water molecules in the Clavius Crater, which is the largest crater  visible from Earth. The data collected shows roughly 12 ounces of water spread across a cubic meter of soil. This discovery provides a new perspective on how water is created and how it has maintained on a surface that has no oxygen, NASA officials said in a press release.

“It was, in fact, the first time SOFIA has looked at the moon, and we weren’t even completely sure if we would get reliable data, but questions about the moon’s water compelled us to try,” Naseem Rangwala, SOFIA’s project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, said in a news release. “It’s incredible that this discovery came out of what was essentially a test, and now that we know we can do this, we’re planning more flights to do more observations.”

Due to this discovery, the SOFIA flight will continue to research water molecules on the moon and if more can be found on other sunlit surfaces. The flights will also study how water is created, stored and moved along the surface during different moon phases.

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