A February 11, 2014 story in the UK Daily Mail reports on a recent study by scientists at the University of Hawaii that suggests that cosmic rays bombarding water ice secreted in the deep recesses of lunar craters at the moon’s north and south poles is creating complex organic molecules that is the precursor of life.
According to Paul Spudis, a planetary geologist, the researchers “took measurements of the levels of cosmic radiation from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and applied it to a composition similar to that observed by the impacting LCROSS probe at the south pole of the Moon. As you may recall, this probe found both water vapor and ice particles ejected by the impact in one of the permanently dark regions near the pole; it also observed additional compounds, including methane, ammonia and some other simple organic molecules. These substances are present in cometary ices and thus, it was thought that their presence could indicate a cometary origin for the Moon’s polar ice.”
While the possibility of “pockets of life” on the moon is considered unlikely, the implications of this theory are far reaching. It means, once again, that the moon is far more interesting and dynamic than previously thought.
Paul Spudis put it the following way:
“Because the Moon represents a stable, unchanging environment over billions of years, it accumulates the evidence and detritus of the impact history of that era. Most of the volatile component of this impacting debris is lost from the Moon, but any of it that becomes trapped in the cold, dark areas near the poles remains there forever. The poles of the Moon are thus a natural laboratory for the study of one of the early processes in Solar System history – the creation of complex organic substances from the more primitive and simple elements and compounds. In this sense, the pre-biotic organic chemistry of the lifeless and barren Moon serves the cause of the study of life’s processes and origin.”
The presence of water ice on the moon has already made Earth’s nearest neighbor a prime target for space enthusiasts. Water can be used to sustain a lunar colony. It can also be processed into rocket fuel, making the moon a fuel depot for space craft headed deeper into the solar system. But the University of Hawaii study also suggests that the moon is now, more than ever, a useful venue for scientific study, not just for geologists, geophysicists, and astronomers looking at lunar based astronomy, but for biochemists as well. Study of the moon’s organic material would provide new insights into the origin of life.
Hence the case for a return to the moon has just gotten more potent.