Moonshine: Diurnally varying hydration through natural distillation on the Moon, detected by the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND)

T. A. Livengood, G. Chin, R. Z. Sagdeev, I. G. Mitrofanov, W. V. Boynton, L. G. Evans, M. L. Litvak, T. P. McClanahan, A. B. Sanin, R. D. Starr, J. J. Su

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations

Abstract

The Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND), on the polar-orbiting Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft, has detected suppression in the Moon's naturally-occurring epithermal neutron leakage flux that is consistent with the presence of diurnally varying quantities of hydrogen in the regolith near the equator. Peak hydrogen concentration (neutron flux suppression) is on the dayside of the dawn terminator and diminishes through the dawn-to-noon sector. The minimum concentration of hydrogen is in the late afternoon and dusk sector. The chemical form of hydrogen is not determinable from these measurements, but other remote sensing methods and anticipated elemental availability suggest water molecules or hydroxyl ions. Signal-to-noise ratio at maximum contrast is 5.6. σ in each of two detector systems. Volatiles are deduced to collect in or on the cold nightside surface and distill out of the regolith after dawn as rotation exposes the surface to sunlight. Liberated volatiles migrate away from the warm subsolar region toward the nearby cold nightside surface beyond the terminator, resulting in maximum concentration at the dawn terminator. The peak concentration within the upper ~1. m of regolith is estimated to be 0.0125. ±. 0.0022 weight-percent water-equivalent hydrogen (wt% WEH) at dawn, yielding an accumulation of 190. ±. 30. ml recoverable water per square meter of regolith at each dawn. Volatile transport over the lunar surface in opposition to the Moon's rotation exposes molecules to solar ultraviolet radiation. The short lifetime against photolysis and permanent loss of hydrogen from the Moon requires a resupply rate that greatly exceeds anticipated delivery of hydrogen by solar wind implantation or by meteoroid impacts, suggesting that the surface inventory must be continually resupplied by release from a deep volatile inventory in the Moon. The natural distillation of water from the regolith by sunlight and its capture on the cold night surface may provide energy-efficient access to volatiles for in situ resource utilization (ISRU) by direct capture before volatiles can enter the surface, eliminating the need to actively mine regolith for volatile resource recovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)100-115
Number of pages16
JournalIcarus
Volume255
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 5 2015

Keywords

  • Ices
  • Moon, surface
  • Regoliths
  • Terrestrial planets

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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