Washington: Researchers built an ultra-high vacuum system that simulates conditions in space, then performed the first-ever reported measurement of the water photodesorption cross section from an actual lunar sample.
The research at the Georgia Institute of Technology indicates that ultraviolet photons emitted by the sun likely cause H2O molecules to either quickly desorb or break apart. The fragments of water may remain on the lunar surface, but the presence of useful amounts of water on the sunward side is not likely.
The Georgia Tech team built an ultra-high vacuum system that simulates conditions in space, then performed the first-ever reported measurement of the water photodesorption cross section from an actual lunar sample. The machine zapped a small piece of the moon with ultraviolet (157 nm) photons to create excited states and watched what happened to the water molecules.
They either came off with a cross section of almost 6 x 10-19?cm2 or broke apart with a cross section of almost 5 x 10-19?cm2. According to the team’s measurements, approximately one in every 1,000 molecules leave the lunar surface simply due to absorption of UV light.
Georgia Tech’s cross section values can now be used by scientists attempting to find water throughout the solar system and beyond.
“The cross section is an important number planetary scientists, astrochemists and the astrophysics community need for models regarding the fate of water on comets, moons, asteroids, other airless bodies and interstellar grains,” said Thomas Orlando, the Georgia Tech professor who led the study.
The number is relatively large, which establishes that solar UV photons are likely removing water from the moon’s surface. This research, which was carried out primarily by former Georgia Tech Ph.D. student Alice DeSimone, indicates the cross sections increase even more with decreasing water coverage. That’s why it’s not likely that water remains intact as H2O on the sunny side of the moon. Orlando compares it to sitting outside on a summer day.