Ingredients for water could be made on surface of moon, a chemical factory

Ingredients for water could be made on surface of moon, a chemical factory


When a stream of charged particles known as the solar wind careens onto the Moon's surface at 450 kilometers per second (or nearly 1 million miles per hour), they enrich the Moon's surface in ingredients that could make water, NASA scientists have found.

Using a computer program, scientists simulated the chemistry that unfolds when the solar wind pelts the Moon's surface. As the Sun streams protons to the Moon, they found, those particles interact with electrons in the lunar surface, making hydrogen (H) atoms. These atoms then migrate through the surface and latch onto the abundant oxygen (O) atoms bound in the silica (SiO2) and other oxygen-bearing molecules that make up the lunar soil, or regolith. Together, hydrogen and oxygen make the molecule hydroxyl (OH), a component of water, or H2O.

"We think of water as this special, magical compound," said William M. Farrell, a plasma physicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who helped develop the simulation. "But here's what's amazing: every rock has the potential to make water, especially after being irradiated by the solar wind."

Understanding how much water -- or its chemical components -- is available on the Moon is critical to NASA's goal of sending humans to establish a permanent presence there, said Orenthal James Tucker, a physicist at Goddard who spearheaded the simulation research.

"We're trying to learn about the dynamics of transport of valuable resources like hydrogen around the lunar surface and throughout its exosphere, or very thin atmosphere, so we can know where to go to harvest those resources," said Tucker, who recently described the simulation results in the journal JGR Planets.

Several spacecraft used infrared instruments that measure light emitted from the Moon to identify the chemistry of its surface. These include NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft, which had numerous close encounters with the Earth-Moon system en route to comet 103P/Hartley 2; NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which passed the Moon on its way to Saturn; and India's Chandrayaan-1, which orbited the Moon a decade ago. All found evidence of water or its components (hydrogen or hydroxyl).

But how these atoms and compounds form on the Moon is still an open question. It's possible that meteor impacts initiate the necessary chemical reactions, but many scientists believe that the solar wind is the primary driver.

 


Updated by: News Sources 2019-02-25 3:30 PM



Ingredients for water could be made on surface of moon, a chemical factory

Ingredients for water could be made on surface of moon, a chemical factory

Ingredients for water could be made on surface of moon, a chemical factory


When a stream of charged particles known as the solar wind careens onto the Moon's surface at 450 kilometers per second (or nearly 1 million miles per hour), they enrich the Moon's surface in ingredients that could make water, NASA scientists have found.

Using a computer program, scientists simulated the chemistry that unfolds when the solar wind pelts the Moon's surface. As the Sun streams protons to the Moon, they found, those particles interact with electrons in the lunar surface, making hydrogen (H) atoms. These atoms then migrate through the surface and latch onto the abundant oxygen (O) atoms bound in the silica (SiO2) and other oxygen-bearing molecules that make up the lunar soil, or regolith. Together, hydrogen and oxygen make the molecule hydroxyl (OH), a component of water, or H2O.

"We think of water as this special, magical compound," said William M. Farrell, a plasma physicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who helped develop the simulation. "But here's what's amazing: every rock has the potential to make water, especially after being irradiated by the solar wind."

Understanding how much water -- or its chemical components -- is available on the Moon is critical to NASA's goal of sending humans to establish a permanent presence there, said Orenthal James Tucker, a physicist at Goddard who spearheaded the simulation research.

"We're trying to learn about the dynamics of transport of valuable resources like hydrogen around the lunar surface and throughout its exosphere, or very thin atmosphere, so we can know where to go to harvest those resources," said Tucker, who recently described the simulation results in the journal JGR Planets.

Several spacecraft used infrared instruments that measure light emitted from the Moon to identify the chemistry of its surface. These include NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft, which had numerous close encounters with the Earth-Moon system en route to comet 103P/Hartley 2; NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which passed the Moon on its way to Saturn; and India's Chandrayaan-1, which orbited the Moon a decade ago. All found evidence of water or its components (hydrogen or hydroxyl).

But how these atoms and compounds form on the Moon is still an open question. It's possible that meteor impacts initiate the necessary chemical reactions, but many scientists believe that the solar wind is the primary driver.

 


Updated by: News Sources 2019-02-25 3:30 PM