A stunning discovery of nanoparticles inside bubbles of glass in lunar soil could solve the mystery of why the Moon’s surface topsoil has many unusual properties, according to a scientist.
Marek Zbik, from Australia’s Queensland University of Technology’s science and engineering faculty, said scientists had long observed the strange behaviour of lunar soil but had not taken much notice of the nano and submicron particles found in the soil and their source was unknown.
Zbik took the lunar soil samples to Taiwan where he could study the glass bubbles without breaking them, using a new technique for studying nanomaterials - called synchrotron-based nano tomography -to look at the particles.
Nano tomography is a transmission X-ray microscope which enables 3D images of nanoparticles to be made.
“We were really surprised at what we found,” Zbik said. “Instead of gas or vapour inside the bubbles, which we would expect to find in such bubbles on Earth, the lunar glass bubbles were filled with a highly porous network of alien-looking glassy particles that span the bubbles’ interior,” a Queensland statement said.
“It appears that the nanoparticles are formed inside bubbles of molten rocks when meteorites hit the lunar surface. Then they are released when the glass bubbles are pulverised by the consequent bombardment of meteorites on the moon’s surface,” Zbik said.
“This continuous pulverising of rocks on the lunar surface and constant mixing develop a type of soil which is unknown on Earth,” the scientist added.
According to Zbik, nanoparticles behaved under the laws of quantum physics which were completely different from so-called ‘normal’ physics laws. Because of this, materials containing nanoparticles behave strangely according to our current understanding.
“Nanoparticles are so tiny - it is their size and not what they are made of that accounts for their exceptional properties,” Zbik said.
“We don’t understand a lot about quantum physics yet but it could be that these nanoparticles, when liberated from their glass bubble, mix with other soil constituents and give lunar soil its unusual properties”.
“Lunar soil is electro-statically charged so it hovers above the surface; it is extremely chemically active; and it has low thermal conductivity, for example, it can be 160 degrees above the surface, but 40 degrees two metres below the surface,” the scientist added.
“It is also very sticky and brittle such that its particles wear the surface off metal and glass,” Zbik said.