Annika Barron

Physics

Faculty Advisor: Jay LaVerne

Winter 2020-21 Project: Radiolysis of Lunar Regolith and Surrogates

Earlier this year, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy discovered water on the sunlit surface of the moon. While it was only a tiny amount, this discovery raises very important questions about where this water came from, whether it will last, and the implications for the future of space exploration. One theory is that the proton bombardment of metal oxides creates both surface hydroxides and water. This research seeks to understand the effects of radiation chemistry on lunar regolith, the fine powder on the surface of the moon, and whether this radiation process could have led to the formation of water on the moon’s surface. 

In order to answer these questions, we will begin by examining iron oxides and silicon oxide nanoparticles (which act as surrogates for lunar regolith) to develop protocols and an effective process, and then we will examine real lunar soil. Radiolysis will be performed using accelerated protons from the 9S accelerator in the Nuclear Science Laboratory, as well as gamma rays from other resources in the Radiation Laboratory. Before and after radiolysis, spectroscopic techniques, including UV-visible, infrared, Raman spectroscopy, and x-ray scattering will be used to examine the materials and determine the ways in which the elemental composition and properties may have changed. Using this analysis, we hope to understand the effects of radiation on lunar soil, hopefully leading to a conclusion about the formation of water on the moon’s surface.