'It shouldn't exist': Rust found on the moon puzzles scientists

Map of hematite on the Moon. Image credit Li et al doi 10.1126

Researchers propose that fast-moving dust particles, which regularly pelt the Moon, could release surface-borne water molecules and mix them with iron in the lunar soil.

But the evidence was there.

The weird discovery has left scientists baffled as haematite is an oxidized form of iron that is formed on the Earth only in the presence of both air and water.

The Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) maiden mission to the Moon has revealed that there may be rusting on the Earth's natural satellite.

"At first I didn't really believe it", said Abigail Freeman, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The lead author of the study, planetary scientist Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, chose to take a closer look and discovered hematite, which is essentially rust. But a new study has suggested that the moon which is airless, also has rust on its surface.

Not only is there wind on the moon, but it is also filled with hydrogen that flows from the sun, which is driven by the solar wind.

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After months of research, Lee and NASA scientists think they've cracked it - and the answer lies in our own planet.

It is incredible that this satellite of the Earth constantly suffers the sun's solar winds. Li found that the side of the moon that faces Earth has more rust than the areas that don't face Earth. The moon enters this tail three days before it's full, and it takes six days to cross the tail and exit on the other side. "But since we discovered water on the Moon, people have been speculating that there could be a greater variety of minerals than we realize if that water had reacted with rocks".

Earth's magnetic field - which is officially called a magnetotail - trails behind the planet as it speeds through space, orbiting our Sun. Though it should cancel out any oxidization on the Moon, Earth's magnetotail has also been shown to block over 99 percent of the solar wind during certain periods of the Moon's orbit.

"Our hypothesis is that lunar hematite is formed by the oxidation of iron to the surface of the moon by oxygen from the Earth's upper atmosphere, which is constantly blown by the solar wind while the moon is magnetizing the earth for the last several billion years".

"This discovery will reshape our knowledge of the lunar polar regions", he added. "The Earth may have played an important role in the evolution of the moon's surface". "It could be that little bits of water and the impact of dust particles are allowing iron in these bodies to rust", Fraeman said. It also remains unclear how exactly the water on the moon interacts with rocks.

It is also possible that more oxygen was transferred to the Moon when it was closer to the Earth, as the two bodies have been moving further away from each other for billions of years.

To gather more data for these unsolved mysteries, NASA is building a new version of the instrument that collected all this existing data about the moon's mineral composition. Ice water exists in lunar craters, but that water exists on the far side of the moon, far from where the rust occurred.

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