We expect to hear of hopes for life on Mars and exoplanets, but recently a contention has surfaced that the lunar surface could be hiding the building blocks for simple life. In 2009, water vapour was discovered at the Moon’s south pole, either sublimated from trapped ice or left by comets.
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.
Of course, as Brownell notes at New Scientist,
… it is unclear how long organics would survive in lunar ices, as cosmic rays can also break down complex molecules under the right conditions, says Alexander Pavlov, also at Goddard. For instance, it is feared that the harsh radiation conditions on the surface of Mars might have broken down any evidence of past life, if it ever existed. That is partly why the team behind NASA’s Curiosity rover hopes to study areas on Mars that have not been exposed for too long.
No one claims that these organics are on their way to becoming life; the hope is that organics will turn out to be more plentiful in apparently inhospitable venues than formerly thought. Searchers are now considering water vapor at Mercury’s poles and Jupiter’s moons.
See also: Don’t let Mars fool you. Those exoplanets teem with life!
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