We know there’s ice on the moon, but what’s less clear is where it comes from. A new study suggests that waves of electrons, arriving indirectly from the Earth and the Sun, contribute to the formation of frozen water on the moon’s surface.
These electrons hit the Moon as it passes in and out of the Earth Magnetic tailWhat our planet leaves behind as it hurtles through space.
Inside the magnetotail is a plasma sheet made up of highly charged electrons and ions, drawn in from Earth’s atmosphere and solar wind radiation from the Sun.
Scientists have previously investigated the role the magnetotail and larger magnetosphere may play in the formation of water on the Moon’s surface. The magnetosphere is created when Earth’s protective magnetic field repels the solar wind, creating a variety of effects in its wake.
“This provides a natural laboratory for studying the formation processes of the Moon’s surface water.” He says Planetary scientist Shuai Lee of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
“When the Moon is outside the magnetotail, the Moon’s surface is bombarded by solar wind. Inside the magnetotail, there are almost no solar wind protons, and the composition of water is expected to drop to near zero.”
However, remote analysis suggests that this is not the case. Previous studies have suggested that hydrogen ions from the solar wind generate water on the Moon, but this water still appears to form when the Moon’s surface is protected from the solar wind, within the magnetotail.
Researchers believe other forces are at play, specifically electrons. One way this could happen is by the interaction of high-energy electrons with the moon’s soil, releasing the trappers hydrogen Which can then form water.
“In the magnetotail, there may be additional formation processes or new sources of water that are not directly related to the cultivation of solar wind protons.” He says for me. “In particular, radiation from high-energy electrons shows effects similar to solar wind protons.”
More observations and experiments on the Moon’s surface will be needed to know for sure, but it’s an interesting suggestion — and one of many that scientists are looking into to try to pinpoint where the Moon’s water first originated.
There are a lot of reasons why the Moon’s water source fascinates scientists: it teaches us more about its past, and it’s vital to figuring out how we could live long-term on the Moon’s surface.
“Altogether, this finding and my previous discoveries of the Moon’s rusty plumes suggest that Mother Earth is strongly connected to its Moon in many unknown aspects.” He says for me.
The research was published in Nature astronomy.
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