Using a computer program, NASA scientists have recreated a chemical procedure through which elements for water could be made on the surface of the Moon making it a chemical factory, a development that could help in the objective of sending people to set up a permanent presence there.
The chemistry 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.
William M. Farrell, a plasma physicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who helped develop the simulation said, “We think of water as this special, magical compound. But here’s what’s amazing: every rock has the potential to make water, especially after being irradiated by the solar wind.”
Orenthal James Tucker, a physicist at Goddard who spearheaded the simulation research said, “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.”
“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.”
The simulation traces the lifecycle of hydrogen atoms on the Moon, supports the solar wind idea. Through this, they have figure out how these three inventories of hydrogen are physically intertwined.
Overall, Tucker’s simulation demonstrates that as solar wind consistently impacts the Moon’s surface, it breaks the bond among atoms of silicon, iron, and oxygen that make up most of the Moon‘s soil. This leaves oxygen atoms with unsatisfied bonds.
As hydrogen atoms flow through the Moon’s surface, they get temporarily trapped with the unhinged oxygen (longer in cold regions than in warm). They float from O to O before finally diffusing into the Moon’s atmosphere and ultimately, into space.
Farrell said, “A key ramification of the result, is that every exposed body of silica in space — from the Moon down to a small dust grain — has the potential to create hydroxyl and thus become a chemical factory for water.”
The study is published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.