Scientists have found that high-energy electrons in the Earth’s plasma layer could be responsible for the erosion processes on the lunar surface. This finding, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, suggests that these electrons may also have played a role in the formation of water on the lunar surface. Understanding the distribution and concentration of water on the Moon is critical to understanding its origin, evolution, and providing water resources for future human exploration.
The presence of high-energy electrons in Earth’s plasma layer could help explain the formation of water ice in the permanently shadowed regions of the Moon. The magnetosphere, a force field that surrounds the Earth due to its magnetic properties, protects the planet from space wear and harmful solar radiation. When the solar wind interacts with the magnetosphere, it creates a long tail on the night side called the magnetocauda, which contains a plasma layer of high-energy electrons and ions.
While scientists previously focused on the role of high-energy ions in the Moon’s erosion processes, this study by Shuai Li of the UH Manoa School of Oceanography and Earth Sciences (SOEST) examined changes in surface erosion as the Moon travels through Earth’s magnetocaudal region. Li and his colleagues analyzed remote sensing data collected between 2008 and 2009 by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument on India’s Chandrayaan 1 mission.
Surprisingly, observations suggested that water formation in Earth’s magnetocuda closely resembled the time when the Moon was outside the magnetocuda, suggesting additional formation processes or new sources of water unrelated to the implantation of protons from the solar wind have. The radiation caused by the high-energy electrons had similar effects to the protons in the solar wind.
These results highlight the connection between Earth and its moon in several previously unknown aspects. Additional research in this area could provide valuable information about the origin and distribution of water on the Moon and its potential to support future lunar exploration.