Volatile Chemicals in the Moon’s Craters Could Help in Future Expeditions

The following set of rovers to land on Mars this year could provide researchers with a unique understanding of Earth’s closest adjacent planet. However, there are still numerous enigmas to be comprehended much closer to our home, on Earth’s own Moon.

Planetary experts have introduced those present at the AGU’s Fall Meeting in San Francisco into chemicals hid in the Moon’s dark craters and the requirements needed for them to gather in that place.

The study could help researchers understand if these chemicals could be a probable resource for forthcoming expeditions to the Moon, according to the scientists.

Chemicals Stuck in Cold Traps

The Earth rotates on its axis as it orbits the Sun. This means that in every moment, one of the planet’s poles is closer to the Sun than the other. However, the Moon doesn’t tilt in a similar way. Rather, there are craters close to the Moon’s poles that have never got to see the sunlight. They are continually trapped in the frigid darkness, so they are called ‘cold traps.’

The Moon’s craters are leftover impacts from the comets that have been colliding with it for billions of years. These comets are composed of elements such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane.

Having no protection like that of Earth’s atmosphere, the majority of these chemicals shatter into the sunlight and run into space. However, if these elements, known as volatiles for their low heating points, arrive in the Moon’s cold traps, they can remain frozen for billions of years.

“Understanding the inventory of volatiles and these cold traps is really good for being a potential resource,” said Dana Hurley, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University who presented the research.

If we were to ever build settlements on the Moon, we could use water for consumption and methane instead of fuel.

Conditions Necessary for Volatiles to Gather

Detecting volatiles in cold traps is rather difficult due to the fact they are covered in darkness. For more than ten years, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has been calculating the dim UV light that comes from stars and hydrogen in space and reflects off the Moon’s craters.

Last year, researchers analyzed the reflection data from a crater known as Faustini, and found a sudden change in reflection that matched to ice, but also another one that they believed could suggest the presence of carbon dioxide.

“For every carbon dioxide molecule that you release somewhere on the Moon, what percentage of those make it to the court traps and stick there?” Hurley explained.

Utilizing information sent to Earth by NASA‘s LRO regarding the sizes and temperatures of these cold traps, Haley designed a probabilistic examination called a ‘Monte Carlo simulation’ to estimate the level of carbon dioxide would get to a cold trap.

“I release particles, and then follow them on trajectories,” Hurley says.

She determined in the probability that the molecules would be shattered by sunlight before they get to a cold trap. The model estimated that of all the carbon dioxide eliminated on the Moon, anywhere from 15 to 20 percent would end up in a cold trap.

“Just knowing exactly how small the area was where it was that cold, it’s really interesting that you can get that much carbon dioxide delivered there,” she said.

Now, Hurley plans to perform a similar study for methane and carbon monoxide.

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