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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.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Feb 18, 2020 - Science

Trump's improbable moonshot

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

NASA is unlikely to meet its deadline of sending astronauts to the surface of the Moon by 2024, even with a large influx of funding.

Why it matters: The Artemis mission to send people back to the Moon is the Trump administration's flagship space policy, and its aggressive, politically-motivated timeline is its hallmark.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Dec 15, 2020 - Science

Scientists step closer to learning more about Planet Nine

Artist's illustration of the alien planet. Image: NASA/ESA/M. Kornmesser

A planet spotted 336 light-years from Earth could help scientists learn more about whether there is a large "Planet Nine" or "Planet X" lurking in the outskirts of our solar system.

Why it matters: Scientists have been hunting for the hypothetical Planet Nine for years. The new characterization of this alien planet by the Hubble Space Telescope shows that worlds like the theoretical planet can exist in other solar systems.

How NASA and the Space Force might fare under Biden

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Joe Biden hasn't gone out of his way to talk about outer space during his presidential campaign. That could be bad news for NASA's exploration ambitions, but good news for the Space Force.

The big picture: NASA faces two threats with any new administration: policy whiplash and budget cuts. In a potential Biden administration, the space agency could get to stay the course on the policy front, while competing with other priorities on the spending side.