WSU researcher sees possibility of moon life

Credit NASA

Credit NASA

It might be hard to believe, but there was a time- between 3.5 and 4 billion years ago- when the Moon may have had an atmosphere, pools of liquid water, and possibly even life.

According to the researchers at the Washington State University in the USA, this outgassing could have formed pools of liquid water on the lunar surface and an atmosphere dense enough to keep it there for millions of years.

Not only did it create an atmosphere, but the escaping steam could have condensed into pools of liquid water on the Moon's surface, becoming a ideal breeding ground for microorganisms.

The moon could have supported life billions of years ago, according to new research.

Both periods had intense amounts of volatile gases, most notably water vapor, coming from its interior - this, researchers say, could have been supportive of life, assuming the vapor turned to liquid water that got trapped on the lunar surface.

And life could have bloomed again during a peak in lunar volcanic activity half a billion years later.

In fact, there may have been two early windows of habitability for Earth's Moon, according to a study online today in the journal Astrobiology by Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an astrobiologist at Washington State University.

The scientists dug through data from prior lunar space missions, including soil and rock samples, that showed that hundreds of millions of tonnes of water is hiding beneath the moon's surface.

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In 2009 and 2010 an worldwide team discovered hundreds of millions of tonnes of water ice on the Moon.

They also acknowledge that there is a high chance that any evidence of such life could now be destroyed after approximately four billion more years of "pounding by solar wind, cosmic radiation, and micrometeorites".

Life on the Moon could have originated much as it did on Earth but the more likely scenario is that it would have been brought in by a meteorite, Schulze-Makuch said.

The presence of water on the Moon is nothing new.

Ian Crawford, professor of planetary science and astrobiology at Birkbeck, University of London, said: "We know we have lunar meteorites on the Earth, so it may well be that a chunk of Earth carried life to the Moon".

Since the early solar system saw a great number of large meteorite impacts, it's plausible a simple organism could have moved from the Earth to the Moon during one of these impacts, Schulze-Makuch theorized. "There could have actually been microbes thriving in water pools on the moon until the surface became dry and dead", Schulze-Makuch said.

Experiments simulating the tumultuous conditions on the baby moon could also be conducted in labs on Earth or the International Space Station to see how long those microbes could survive.

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