Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Moon is Rusting


Map of hematite on the moon—redder color means more hematite. 
(Photo credit: Shuai Li)

Planetary scientists are amazed to find the oxidized iron mineral hematite at high latitudes on the Moon. That’s according to a study published in Science Advances led by Shuai Li, an assistant researcher at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) in the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST).

When iron reacts with oxygen it forms reddish rust. However, the Moon's surface is virtually devoid of oxygen, which accounts for he pristine metallic iron that is prevalent on the Moon. Also highly oxidized iron has not been confirmed in samples acquired from the Apollo missions. 

In addition, solar wind blasts the lunar surface with hydrogen, which acts in opposition to oxidation. Thus, the presence of highly oxidized iron-bearing minerals, such as hematite, on the Moon was an unexpected discovery.

“Our hypothesis is that lunar hematite is formed through oxidation of lunar surface iron by the oxygen from the Earth’s upper atmosphere that has been continuously blown to the lunar surface by solar wind when the Moon is in Earth’s magnetotail during the past several billion years,” said Shuai Li.

This new research was inspired by Li’s previous discovery of water ice in the Moon’s polar regions in 2018.

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