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Sep 2, 2020

Has Earth’s oxygen rusted the Moon for billions of years?

Posted by in category: space

To the surprise of many planetary scientists, the oxidized iron mineral hematite has been discovered at high latitudes on the Moon, according to a study published today in Science Advances led by Shuai Li, assistant researcher at the Hawai’i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) in the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST).

Iron is highly reactive with oxygen—forming reddish rust commonly seen on Earth. The and interior, however, are virtually devoid of oxygen, so pristine metallic iron is prevalent on the Moon and highly oxidized iron has not been confirmed in samples returned from the Apollo missions. In addition, hydrogen in blasts the lunar surface, which acts in opposition to oxidation. So, the presence of highly oxidized iron-bearing minerals, such as , on the Moon is an unexpected discovery.

“Our hypothesis is that lunar hematite is formed through oxidation of lunar surface iron by the oxygen from the Earth’s upper atmosphere that has been continuously blown to the lunar surface by solar wind when the Moon is in Earth’s magnetotail during the past several billion years,” said Li.

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