A group of scientists has discovered that high-energy electrons present in the plasma surrounding Earth are creating water on the Moon. This new finding could provide valuable information about the distribution of water on the lunar surface, especially in permanently shadowed regions that never receive sunlight. Understanding the distribution of water on the Moon is crucial for studying its evolution and planning future manned missions. Water can be collected by astronauts for sustenance and can also be converted into fuel for space exploration.

The research, led by scientist Shuai Li from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, connects the formation of water on the Moon with 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 nighttime side of Earth, called the magnetotail. Within this magnetotail, high-energy electrons and ions form a plasma layer.

As the Moon orbits Earth, it passes through this magnetotail, which shields it from charged particles while allowing light to reach the lunar surface. Previous research showed that when the Moon is outside the magnetotail, it is bombarded by the solar wind and small amounts of water are created. However, it was expected that water formation would significantly decrease within the magnetotail due to the absence of solar wind protons.

Using data collected by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper on board the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, Li and his team discovered that water formation in Earth’s magnetotail is similar to when the Moon is outside the magnetotail. This suggests that there are additional processes or sources of water within the magnetotail that are not directly associated with solar wind implantation. The team found that high-energy electrons in the magnetotail produce similar effects to ions in the solar wind.

This finding supports Li’s previous research that showed oxygen in the magnetotail oxidizes iron in the polar regions of the Moon. This emphasizes the deep connection between Earth and the Moon. The team will continue to investigate the plasma environment around the Moon and study 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 on the lunar surface and beyond.

Source: Space.com (Original Article)