Electrons from Earth may play an unexpected role in the formation of water on the moon, according to research from the University of Hawai’i (UH) at Mnoa. In addition to advancing our knowledge of lunar evolution, this ground-breaking work, published in Nature Astronomy, may also pave the way for further human exploration.
More than merely a scientific curiosity, the existence of water on the moon offers the key to comprehending its genesis and history. Potential lunar water deposits could also develop into priceless assets for manned expeditions to the moon and beyond. The water ice in the permanently shadowed parts of the moon is one of the most fascinating discoveries in this field. But where did this water come from is still a mystery.
The Magnetosphere’s Function
Earth’s magnetosphere, a dynamic force field shaped by the solar wind, shields the globe from the sun’s damaging radiation and space weathering. The plasma sheet, which is full of high-energy electrons possibly coming from both the Earth and the sun’s winds, is located within this stretched tail of the magnetosphere.
In the past, attention has been drawn to how high energy ions, particularly those from the solar wind, affect the moon and any potential for water development on it. The widespread consensus was that the major pathway to lunar water creation involved the lunar surface being exposed to the solar wind, which is teeming with high-energy particles.
Shuai Li, a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), however, revealed something astounding. Li made the decision to look further after proving that Earth’s magnetotail oxygen contributes to the polar corrosion of the moon. He investigated how surface weathering is affected by the moon’s passage through the Earth’s magnetotail, which mostly protects it from the solar wind but not sunlight.
The whole force of the solar wind strikes the moon when it is outside the magnetotail, according to Li. It was assumed that water production would decrease within the magnetotail. However, Li and his team discovered that water production remained constant independent of the moon’s position using data from the moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument on the Chandrayaan 1 mission.
With high-energy electron radiation emerging as a potential actor similar to solar wind protons, this discovery raises questions about other unidentified water creation processes or sources. Li said with much poignancy, “The ties between Earth and its moon are deeper and more mysterious than previously realized.”
Direct observation is the next stage after this finding. In order to examine the lunar environment and its water content as the moon travels through Earth’s magnetotail, Li plans to work with NASA’s Artemis programs.