Permanently shaded regions (PSRs) on the Moon are believed to be home to pockets of surface water ice. However, no one is sure how the water ice got there. New findings published in the journal Nature Astronomy suggest that the Earth’s magnetosphere may have contributed to the formation of the water ice on the Moon’s surface.
Understanding the distribution of water on the Moon is vital if we want to one day settle our little satellite. As such, finding ways to explain the origin of dense water ice we may one day use is going to provide us with even more of an understanding of how the Moon formed and how we can use it to our advantage going forward.
This new research was led by researchers from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. The researchers found that Earth’s plasma sheet, which is an area of trapped charged particles within the magnetosphere, could be contributing to weather processes on the surface of the Moon. Combined with electrons, these processes have probably aided in water formation within the PSRs on the Moon’s surface.
For those who don’t know, the magnetosphere is essentially a layer that protects the Earth from the dangerous radiation that is found in space. This radiation comes from stars like the Sun, and is quite deadly if there isn’t anything helping filter it out. The Magnetosphere on Earth, then, essentially acts as a massive barrier for the radiation, limiting how much gets through.
The plasma sheet the researchers believe could be aiding the creation of water ice on the Moon is essentially a place within the magnetosphere where electrons and other particles become trapped. These ions and electrons are sourced from both the Earth and solar wind, and the researchers believe that these electrons and ions bombard the surface of the Moon, causing water ice to form in those PSRs.
Future research aims to monitor the plasma environment and water content on the lunar polar surface when the Moon is experiencing different phases, which could help provide even more evidence of Earth’s magnetosphere’s role in creating water ice on the Moon. Missions like NASA’s Artemis III could also provide more evidence.