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New Study Suggests Earth’s Electrons Contribute To Water Formation On Moon

Discovery sheds light on origin and distribution of water ice in moon's shaded regions
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Electrons from the Earth could be responsible for water on the moon, according to a new study.

The discovery may help explain the origin of the water ice previously discovered in the moon’s permanently shaded regions.

It also helps us understand the concentrations and distribution of water on the Moon, deepening our understanding of its formation and evolution and its ability to provide water for future human exploration.

The team at the University of Hawaii at Manoa discovered that high energy electrons in Earth’s plasma sheet contribute to weathering processes on the Moon’s surface and may have aided the formation of water there.

The study, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, shows that due to Earth’s magnetism, there is a force field surrounding our planet, known as the magnetosphere.

Water content map on the surface of the Moon. LI, ET AL., 2023 VIA SWNS.

This protects Earth from space weathering and damaging radiation from the Sun.

Solar wind pushes the magnetosphere and reshapes it, making a long tail on the night side.

The plasma sheet within this magnetotail is a region consisting of high-energy electrons and ions that may be sourced from Earth and the solar wind.

Solar wind, composed of high energy particles such as protons, bombards the moon’s surface and is thought to be one of the primary ways in which water has been formed.

The researchers focused on what happens when the Moon passes through Earth’s magnetotail.

“When the Moon is outside of the magnetotail, the lunar surface is bombarded with solar wind. Inside the magnetotail, there are almost no solar wind protons and water formation was expected to drop to nearly zero,” said Assistant researcher Shuai Li.

“To my surprise, the remote sensing observations showed that the water formation in Earth’s magnetotail is almost identical to the time when the Moon was outside of the Earth’s magnetotail,” said Li.

“This indicates that, in the magnetotail, there may be additional formation processes or new sources of water not directly associated with the implantation of solar wind protons. In particular, radiation by high energy electrons exhibits similar effects as the solar wind protons.”

Graphic showing the magnetosphere and plasma sheet. NASA/GODDARD/AARON KAASE VIA SWNS.

The research built on Li’s previous work that showed oxygen in Earth’s magnetotail is rusting iron in the Moon’s polar regions.

He added: “Altogether, this finding and my previous findings of rusty lunar poles indicate that Mother Earth is strongly tied with its Moon in many unrecognized aspects.

“This provides a natural laboratory for studying the formation processes of lunar surface water.”

The data used in the study was collected by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument onboard India’s Chandrayaan 1 mission between 2008 and 2009.

In future research, Mr Li aims to work on a lunar mission through NASA’s Artemis programs to monitor the plasma environment and water content on the lunar polar surface when the Moon is at different phases during the traverse of the Earth’s magnetotail.

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

Edited by Judy J. Rotich and Newsdesk Manager

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