The mystery over where complex organics on the moon came from has long baffled scientists.
These organics, found on the lunar surface’s ice pockets, are carbon-based compounds that are the central building blocks to life on Earth.
Some scientists believe that comets, which also have organics, delivered this carbon-laden water to the moon following impact.
The mystery about where complex organics on the moon came from has long baffled scientists. These organics, found on the lunar surfaces ice pockets, are carbon-based compounds that are the central building blocks to life on Earth
Now a new theory by researchers in Hawaii suggests cosmic rays could be helping the moon create these organics from scratch.
Sarah Crites at the University of Hawaii at Manoa told Lindsay Brownell at New Scientist that cosmic rays hitting lunar ice are powerful enough to spark reactions on the surface.
Her team believes that up to six per cent of the simpler molecules in the moon’s polar ice, such as carbon dioxide and ammonia, could be converted into organic compounds, such as methane.
The change would occur after a billion years, which is about a quarter of the moon’s age.
Cosmic rays are high-energy particles. When they arrive at Earth, they collide with the nuclei of atoms in the upper atmosphere, creating more particles
WHAT ARE COSMIC RAYS?
Cosmic rays were first discovered in 1912 by Austrian physicist Victor Hess.
These high-energy particles arrive from outer space are mainly protons – nuclei of hydrogen, the lightest and most common element in the universe.
They also include nuclei of helium and heavier nuclei all the way up to uranium.
When they arrive at Earth, they collide with the nuclei of atoms in the upper atmosphere, creating more particles.
Scientists believe cosmic ray bombardment over time causes chemical changes in water ice and can create complex carbon chains.
But as well as creating life, cosmic rays can break down complex materials, and scientists are unclear about how long organics could survive in lunar ice pockets.
Organics created in these simulations would need to become even more complex to form life, said Michael Callahan at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Because cosmic rays can be found throughout the solar system, the work suggests that the building blocks of life are appearing in many more places than scientists initially thought.
Professor Crites added that lunar ice could be a substitute for studying chemistry on more distant icy worlds – such as Jupiter’s moons.
‘One of the take-homes is, go back to the moon and look. Dig up samples, see what’s there,’ she said.