The discovery was the result of observations made by the Kaguya spacecraft, which detected ions of the element on almost the entire surface of the Moon.
Researchers at Osaka University in Japan have found that the Moon has its own volatile carbon emissions – and this contradicts the old theory that the satellite does not emit such elements. The study was published on Science Advances this Wednesday (06).
Data collected from observations by the Kaguya spacecraft indicate that there are carbon ions on almost the entire surface of the Moon. Some areas, like the satellite’s great basaltic plains, emit more carbon ions than other regions, like the highlands.
According to the researchers, this is because the plains are made up of younger material: the older the region, the longer it has been exposed to space weathering and the more carbon it has lost. “Our estimates demonstrate that indigenous carbon exists over the entire Moon, supporting the hypothesis of a carbon-containing Moon, where the carbon was embedded at its formation and/or was transported billions of years ago,” wrote the scholars.
The researchers also compared the Moon’s carbon emissions to previous estimates of how much carbon there should be – and the discovery surprised astronomers. According to them, our natural satellite has more of this substance than was expected, and this led them to deduce the existence of volatile carbon.
The existence of this volatile carbon casts doubt on the most accepted theory of lunar formation today. According to this widely accepted hypothesis, a large celestial body called Theia crashed into Earth sometime in the early years of the Solar System. The wreckage of this impact was sent to Earth’s orbit and ended up forming the Moon.
If this collision really occurred as astronomers theorize, the remnants of the impact reached very high temperatures (about 5700 ºC) – and that should have vaporized all the existing carbon. The discovery by Japanese researchers, however, suggests that the temperatures generated by the impact may have been much lower than previously believed, which would require a review of the theory of the formation of the Moon. “We expect a kind of modification of the lunar birth model,” said Shoichiro Yokota, who participated in the study, according to New Scientist.