(ORDO NEWS) — Hydrogen and oxygen ions escaping from Earth‘s upper atmosphere and settling on the Moon could be one source of the moon‘s famous water and ice, according to a new study from scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute.
The work, led by UAF Geophysical Institute Associate Professor Günter Kletechka, adds to the growing body of research on water at the lunar north and south poles.
The search for water is key to NASA‘s Artemis project, the planned long-term human presence on the moon. NASA plans to send humans to the Moon this decade.
As NASA’s Artemis team plans to build a base camp at the moon’s south pole, water ions that originated years ago on Earth could be used in astronauts’ life support systems,” Kletechka said.
A new study estimates that the moon’s polar regions may contain more than 3,500 cubic kilometers of surface permafrost, or subsurface liquid water, formed from ions escaping from the Earth’s atmosphere The
researchers determined this total from a least volume model calculation – 1% of Earth’s atmosphere reaches the moon.
It is generally believed that most of the lunar water was deposited by asteroids and comets that collided with the moon. Much of it was delayed in a period known as the late heavy bombardment.
It is believed that during this period, approximately 3.5 billion years ago, when the solar system was about 1 billion years old, the early inner planets and the Earth’s moon were subjected to unusually strong asteroid impacts.
Scientists also suggest that the source is the solar wind. The solar wind carries oxygen and hydrogen ions, which could combine and get to the Moon in the form of water molecules.
Now there is an additional way to explain how water accumulates on the Moon.
The study was published March 16 in the journal Scientific Reports in a paper co-authored by Kletechka and graduate student Nicholas Husson of the UAF Geophysical Institute and Center for Water and Environmental Studies.
Kletechka and his colleagues suggest that hydrogen and oxygen ions enter the Moon as it passes through Earth’s magnetotail, which occurs during the five days of the Moon’s month-long journey around the planet.
The magnetosphere is a teardrop-shaped bubble created by the Earth’s magnetic field that shields the planet from most of the continuous stream of charged solar particles.
Recent measurements by several space agencies – NASA, the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Indian Space Research Organization – showed that a significant amount of water-forming ions were present during the moon’s passage through this part of the magnetosphere.
These ions have been slowly accumulating since the late heavy bombardment.
The presence of the Moon in the magnetotail temporarily affects some of the Earth’s magnetic field lines – those that are broken and that simply go many thousands of kilometers into space.
Not all Earth’s field lines are attached to the planet at both ends; some have only one attachment point. Think of each one as a thread tied to a post on a windy day.
The presence of the Moon in the magnetic tail causes some of these broken field lines to reconnect with their opposite broken counterparts. When this happens, the hydrogen and oxygen ions that left the Earth rush towards these newly connected field lines and accelerate back towards the Earth.
The authors of the article suggest that many of these returning ions hit the passing Moon, which does not have its own magnetosphere to repel them.
“It’s like the Moon is in a shower – a shower of water ions returning to Earth falls on the surface of the Moon,” Kletechka says.
The ions then combine and form the lunar permafrost. Some of these ions, due to geological and other processes, such as asteroid impacts, sink below the surface, where they can turn into liquid water. ”
The research team used gravity data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to study the polar regions, as well as several large Anomalies in subterranean areas at impact craters point to locations of fractured rock capable of containing liquid water or ice Gravity measurements at these subsurface locations indicate the presence of ice or liquid water, a scientific paper says
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