Is the Moon Rusting?

Context: The images sent by Chandrayaan-1 suggest that the moon may be rusting along the poles as a recently published study that found an oxidised iron mineral called hematite (Fe2O3) at high latitudes on the Moon.

Analysis

  • The researchers say that this lunar hematite is formed through oxidation of the iron on the Moon’s surface by the oxygen from Earth’s upper atmosphere.
  • The team analysed the data acquired by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper onboard Chandrayaan-1.
  • Along with the oxygen, water on the lunar surface and heat from interplanetary dust also helped in the oxidation process.
  • However, the hematite is not absolutely absent on the lunar farside.
  • There, a small amount of iron oxides “might be formed under the presence of water and energies induced by interplanetary dust impacts and then be decomposed to hematite.”
  • They write that the hematite formed at lunar craters of different ages may help understand the oxygen of Earth’s atmosphere in the past 2.4 billion years and reveal facts about the evolution of Earth’s atmosphere in the past billions of years.
  • The team hopes that NASA’s ARTEMIS missions can bring some hematite samples, and detailed chemical studies can confirm if the lunar hematite was indeed oxidised by Earth’s oxygen.

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