Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Cosmic rays alter chemistry of lunar ice

20.03.2012
Space scientists from the University of New Hampshire and multi-institutional colleagues report they have quantified levels of radiation on the moon's surface from galactic cosmic ray (GCR) bombardment that over time causes chemical changes in water ice and can create complex carbon chains similar to those that help form the foundations of biological structures.

In addition, the radiation process causes the lunar soil, or regolith, to darken over time, which is important in understanding the geologic history of the moon.

The scientists present their findings in a paper published online in the American Geophysical Union's Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR)-Planets. The paper, titled "Lunar Radiation Environment and Space Weathering from the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER)," is based on measurements made by the CRaTER instrument onboard NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission. The paper's lead author is Nathan Schwadron, an associate professor of physics at the UNH Space Science Center within the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS). Co-author Harlan Spence is the director of EOS and lead scientist for the CRaTER instrument.

The telescope provides the fundamental measurements needed to test our understanding of the lunar radiation environment and shows that "space weathering" of the lunar surface by energetic radiation is an important agent for chemical alteration. CRaTER measures material interactions of GCRs and solar energetic particles (SEPs), both of which present formidable hazards for human exploration and spacecraft operations. CRaTER characterizes the global lunar radiation environment and its biological impacts by measuring radiation behind a "human tissue-equivalent" plastic.

Serendipitously, the LRO mission made measurements during a period when GCR fluxes remained at the highest levels ever observed in the space age due to the sun's abnormally extended quiet cycle. During this quiescent period, the diminished power, pressure, flux and magnetic flux of the solar wind allowed GCRs and SEPs to more readily interact with objects they encountered – particularly bodies such as our moon, which has no atmosphere to shield the blow.

"This has provided us with a unique opportunity because we've never made these types of measurements before over an extended period of time, which means we've never been able to validate our models," notes Schwadron. "Now we can put this whole modeling field on more solid footing and project GCR dose rates from the present period back through time when different interplanetary conditions prevailed." This projection will provide a clearer picture of the effects of GCRs on airless bodies through the history of the solar system.

Moreover, CRaTER's recent findings also provide further insight into radiation as a double-edge sword. That is, while cosmic radiation does pose risks to astronauts and even spacecraft, it may have been a fundamental agent of change on celestial bodies by irradiating water ice and causing chemical alterations. Specifically, the process releases oxygen atoms from water ice, which are then free to bind with carbon to form large molecules that are "prebiotic" organic molecules.

In addition to being able to accurately gauge the radiation environment of the past, the now more robust models can also be used more effectively to predict potential radiation hazards spawned by GCRs and SEPs.

Says Schwadron, "Our validated models will be able to answer the question of how hazardous the space environment is and could be during these high-energy radiation events, and the ability to do this is absolutely necessary for any manned space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit."

Indeed, current models were in agreement with radiation dose rates measured by CRaTER, which together demonstrates the accuracy of the Earth-Moon-Mars Radiation Environment Module (EMMREM) being developed at UNH. EMMREM integrates a variety of models describing radiation effects in the Earth-moon-Mars and interplanetary space environments and has now been validated to show its suitability for real-time space weather prediction.

Additional co-authors on the UNH CRaTER team include Thomas Baker, Michael Golightly, Andrew Jordan, Colin Joyce, Sonya Smith, and Jody Wilson. Other co-authors are from the Aerospace Corporation, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Boston University, NASA Headquarters, Scientific Data Processing, University of Tennessee, Southwest Research Institute.

The University of New Hampshire, founded in 1866, is a world-class public research university with the feel of a New England liberal arts college. A land, sea, and space-grant university, UNH is the state's flagship public institution, enrolling 12,200 undergraduate and 2,300 graduate students.

Photograph to download: http://crater.unh.edu/graphics/gallery/LRO-7-1_lg.jpg

Artist's illustration of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. CRaTER is the instrument center-mounted at the bottom of LRO. Illustration by Chris Meaney/NASA.

For more information on the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER), visit http://crater.unh.edu.

For more information on EMMREM, visit http://emmrem.unh.edu

David Sims | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.unh.edu
http://www.emmrem.unh.edu

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Molecular volume control

22.08.2017 | Life Sciences

When fish swim in the holodeck

22.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Biochemical 'fingerprints' reveal diabetes progression

22.08.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>