August 6, 2010

Moon Too Dry To Support Life

While scientists have long searched for water on the Moon, a new study asserts that the Earth's satellite is actually quite dry--too dry, in fact, to sustain life.

The paper, entitled "The Chlorine Isotope Composition of the Moon and Implications for an Anhydrous Mantle," was published Thursday in Science Express. It is the work of scientists from the University of New Mexico (UNM), the University of Texas at Austin, the University of California-Los Angeles, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The team of scientists studied samples brought from the lunar surface during the Apollo missions, looking for chorine isotopes that could indicate the levels of hydrogen on the Moon and, by association, the existence of water. Specifically, according to BBC News, they were comparing whether or not the Moon's ratio of chlorine 37 to chlorine 35 was similar to Earth's.

What they found, according to the abstract of their published report, was that "the range of isotopic values (from "“1 to +24 vs. SMOC) is 25 times greater than for Earth. The huge isotopic spread is explained by volatilization of metal halides during basalt eruption, a process that could only occur if the Moon had H concentration ~10 to the 4th to 10 to the 5th lower than Earth, implicating that the lunar interior is essentially anhydrous."

"We very absolutely shocked when we found that not only it's not similar, but unlike the Earth where every sample is essentially the same, here we're getting these enormous differences," UNM Earth and Planetary Sciences and Regents Professor Zachary Sharp told BBC science reporter Katia Moskvitch on Thursday. "They were so big that we thought at first that we had maybe some analytical errors, that we were doing something wrong."

"It was just unheard of, it was inexplicable. We went back, re-analyzed things and checked that everything was OK," he added. "We then came up with the idea that in order for this to happen, to have these huge variations, the [Moon] must have been dry when these basalts crystallized from magma. The lavas that must have poured out onto the surface had no water dissolved in them."

In an article published on the UNM website, Sharp added that his team intended to conduct a similar experiment to test for the existence of water on Mars.


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