Solar-wind hydrogen has been found in lunar samples by US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) researchers, suggesting that water on the moon’s surface might be an essential resource for future lunar colonies and farther-reaching space missions.
Identification of resources from space is crucial to the planning of government- and civilian-led space research.
The samples, which were sent to NRL scientists for analysis and testing by a NASA research mission, were recognized as being from Apollo lunar soil.
Gaining knowledge about the location and processes of water formation and retention within regolith is essential for making efficient use of the resource.
Depending on the mineral makeup of the regolith, its temperature history, and other factors, solar wind hydrogen, which on the lunar surface may form molecular hydrogen, water, and/or hydroxyl, interacts and is retained in diverse ways.
“When there are more frequent or permanent installations there, hydrogen has the potential to be a resource that can be used directly on the lunar surface,” said Dr. Katherine D. Burgess, a geologist at NRL’s Materials Science and Technology Division.
“Space travel will benefit greatly by knowing where resources are and how to get them before reaching the moon.”
To learn more about how surfaces interact with space, a process known as space weathering, the research team is still examining materials from asteroids and the lunar surface. Previous experiments using more Apollo samples verified where solar wind helium was found in the grains of lunar soil.
“This is the first time that scientists have shown that they can find species that contain hydrogen inside of vesicles in lunar samples,” Burgess added.
“This is the first publication showing hydrogen in-situ in lunar samples; other researchers have found water in other planetary samples. Previously, the same team at NRL used cutting-edge techniques like electron energy loss spectroscopy and scanning transmission electron microscopy to detect helium in lunar samples.”
The study has been published in the journal Communications Earth and Environment.