Scientists have discovered that high-energy electrons located in the plasma surrounding Earth are creating water on the moon. This new finding could provide valuable insight into the distribution of water across the lunar surface, particularly in permanently shaded regions that never receive sunlight. Understanding water distribution on the moon is crucial for studying its evolution and planning future manned missions. Water can be harvested by astronauts for sustenance and can also be converted into fuel for further space exploration.
The research, led by scientist Shuai Li from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, connects water formation on the moon to Earth’s magnetic bubble known as the magnetosphere. The magnetosphere acts as a shield, protecting Earth from high-energy particles in the solar wind. When the solar wind interacts with the magnetosphere, it creates a long magnetic tail on the nightside of Earth, called the magnetotail. Within this magnetotail, high-energy electrons and ions form a plasma sheet.
As the moon orbits Earth, it passes through this magnetotail, which shields it from charged particles while still allowing light to reach the lunar surface. Previous research showed that when the moon is outside the magnetotail, it is bombarded by solar wind and small quantities of water are created. However, it was expected that water formation would decrease significantly inside the magnetotail due to the absence of solar wind protons.
Using data collected by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper on the Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft, Li and his team found that water formation in Earth’s magnetotail is similar to when the moon is outside the magnetotail. It suggests that there are additional processes or sources of water within the magnetotail that are not directly associated with solar wind implantation. The team discovered that high-energy electrons in the magnetotail produce similar effects to ions in the solar wind.
This finding supports previous research by Li that showed oxygen in the magnetotail rusts iron in the polar regions of the moon. It emphasizes the deep connection between Earth and the moon. The team will continue investigating the plasma environment around the moon and studying the water content at the lunar poles during different phases of the moon’s passage through the magnetotail.
This research is essential as part of the Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the moon by 2026. The discoveries made will contribute to better planning and preparation for extended missions to the lunar surface and beyond.
– Space.com (Original Article)