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Direct measurement of hydroxyl in the lunar regolith and the origin of lunar surface water


Remote sensing discoveries of hydroxyl and water on the lunar surface have reshaped our view of the distribution of water and related compounds on airless bodies such as the Moon1,2,3. The origin of this surface water is unclear4, but it has been suggested that hydroxyl in the lunar regolith can result from the implantation of hydrogen ions by the solar wind1,5. Here we present Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and secondary ion mass spectrometry analyses of Apollo samples that reveal the presence of significant amounts of hydroxyl in glasses formed in the lunar regolith by micrometeorite impacts. Hydrogen isotope compositions of these glasses suggest that some of the observed hydroxyl is derived from solar wind sources. Our findings imply that ice in polar cold traps could contain hydrogen atoms ultimately derived from the solar wind, as predicted by early theoretical models of water stability on the lunar surface6. We suggest that a similar mechanism may contribute to hydroxyl on the surfaces of other airless terrestrial bodies where the solar wind directly interacts with the surface, such as Mercury and the asteroid 4-Vesta.

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Figure 1: FTIR spectra and SIMS data of two agglutinates.
Figure 2: D/H values versus OH contents (in ppmw H2O) of lunar agglutinitic glasses.
Figure 3: The D/H values of agglutinates versus 1/H2O contents.

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This work is supported in part by NASA Cosmochemistry grants NNX11AG58G (L.A.T.), NNX10AH74G (Y.Z.), the support from the Moore Foundation to the Caltech Microanalysis Center (J.M.E.), and NSF grant EAR-0947956 (G.R.R.). A portion of this study was also supported by the Planetary Geosciences Institute at UTK. We thank Z. Xu for her assistance with FTIR analyses at UM, M. L. Voyer for kindly providing glass standards, and J. Mosenfelder for providing the dry olivine standard.

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Y.L. led the project from the sample preparation, the FTIR and SIMS measurements, to the paper writing. Y.G. set up the SIMS instrument and assisted in the formulation of the analytical protocol. Y.Z. assisted in the infrared analyses for all agglutinates. G.R.R. assisted in the preliminary infrared analyses of three agglutinates. L.A.T. initialized the search for water in agglutinates with G.R.R. 20 yr ago, has championed this endeavor since, and was allocated the lunar soil samples by NASA. All authors participated in the data interpretation and paper writing.

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Correspondence to Yang Liu.

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Liu, Y., Guan, Y., Zhang, Y. et al. Direct measurement of hydroxyl in the lunar regolith and the origin of lunar surface water. Nature Geosci 5, 779–782 (2012).

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