Photo: NASA/JPL/Northwestern University

Researchers have found rust on the Moon, complicating our picture of how Earth's natural satellite has evolved over the course of billions of years.

Why it matters: Understanding the Moon and its composition is key not just for scientists working to learn more about how planetary systems form and change over time but for future explorers who hope to make use of lunar resources.

What's happening: A new study in the journal Science Advances details findings from India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter that shows hematite — a type of rust — has formed on the Moon.

  • Scientists were surprised by the findings because rust requires oxygen and water to form on Earth. Researchers have known for years that the Moon does have water, but oxygen is in pretty short supply on the airless body.
  • The study suggests the oxygen needed for the chemical reaction to create rust is actually spilling over from Earth's atmosphere driven by the planet's magnetic field to the surface of the Moon.
  • From there, fast-moving dust slamming into the Moon might stir up small amounts of water that interact with oxygen and iron, producing the hematite found by the orbiter.

The big picture: It's possible these kinds of chemical interactions could be at play on other bodies like asteroids as well.

  • "It could be that little bits of water and the impact of dust particles are allowing iron in these bodies to rust," Abigail Fraeman, a Jet Propulsion Lab scientist and one of the authors of the study, said in a statement.

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