Science

Earth sends oxygen to the moon and may have for billions of years: study

A team of Japanese scientists have found that every 5 days, oxygen from Earth travels to the moon.

Biogenic oxygen from plants making its way through space

Scientists have found that the moon is taking up oxygen leaked by Earth each day. (NASA/NOAA)

A new study suggests that each month oxygen from Earth travels along the solar wind, eventually reaching the lunar surface.

But if you're hoping that it will one day make it easier to settle on our celestial neighbour, think again. 

A team of Japanese scientists examined data from the Selenological and Engineering Explorer spacecraft, known as Kaguya (it purposely crashed into the lunar surface in 2009). There, they found something quite interesting: evidence that for five days each month oxygen travels to the moon.

In the study, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, they concluded that oxygen — specifically biogenic oxygen created by plants — reaches the lunar surface for five days each month. Those five days are when our moon crosses Earth's magnetotail, a region of our magnetosphere. Within that is an area called the plasma sheet, full of ions, that is blown outward along the solar wind. It's that sheet that is carrying biogenic oxygen to the moon.

According to the journal Science, four trillion trillion atoms of oxygen have made their way to the moon's surface over the past 2.4 billion years.

In fact, the researchers said in the study that there's "the possibility that the Earth's atmosphere of billions of years ago may be preserved on the present-day lunar surface."

Though it's interesting that oxygen is reaching the lunar surface, there isn't that much of it: it's estimated that about 90 metric tons (out of five quadrillion tons) of our oxygen escapes into space each day.

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