New study provides maps, ice favorability ind

image: UCF planetary scientist Kevin Cannon led a team that created the model system.
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Credit: University of Central Florida

The 49ers who hunted for gold during the California Gold Rush weren’t sure where they could get rich. They had word of mouth and not much else to do.

Researchers at the University of Central Florida want to give prospectors seeking to mine the moon a better chance of finding gold, which means rich deposits of water ice on the moon that can be turned into resources, such as gold. fuel, for space missions.

A team led by planetologist Kevin Cannon has created an Ice Favor Clue. The geological model explains the process of ice formation at the moon’s poles and mapped the terrain, which includes craters that may contain ice deposits. The model, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Icarus, explains what asteroid impacts on the moon’s surface can do to ice deposits found meters below the surface.

“Although we are our closest neighbor, we still don’t know much about the water on the moon, especially how much is below the surface,” Cannon explains. “It is important for us to consider the geological processes that have taken place to better understand where we can find ice deposits and how best to reach them with the least risk.”

The team took inspiration from mining companies on Earth, which do detailed geological work and take core samples before investing in expensive mining sites. Mining companies do field maps, take core samples from the potential site, and try to understand the geological reasons behind the formation of the particular mineral they are looking for in an area of ​​interest. Essentially, they create a model of what a mining area might look like before deciding to invest any money to drill.

The UCF team followed the same approach using data collected on the moon over the years and performed lab simulations. Although they could not collect core samples, they had data from satellite observations and the first trip to the moon.

Why mine the moon

For humans to explore the solar system and beyond, spacecraft must be able to launch and continue their long missions. One of the challenges is fuel. There are no gas stations in space, which means that spacecraft have to carry extra fuel with them for long missions, and that fuel weighs a lot. Exploitation of the moon could lead to the creation of fuel, which would help reduce the cost of flights, as spacecraft would not have to carry the additional fuel.

Water ice can be purified and processed to produce both hydrogen and oxygen for the propellant, according to several previously published studies. In the future, this process could be completed on the moon, effectively producing a gas station for spacecraft. Asteroids can also provide similar resources for fuel.

Some believe that a system of these “service stations” would be the start of the industrialization of space.

Several private companies are exploring mining techniques for use on the moon. Luxembourg and the United States have passed legislation granting citizens and businesses property rights over resources mined in space, including the moon, according to the study.

“The idea of ​​mining the moon and asteroids is no longer science fiction,” says Dan Britt, physics professor and UCF co-author. “There are teams around the world looking for ways to do this and our work will help bring us closer to making the idea a reality. ”

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The study was supported by the NASA Virtual Solar System Exploration Research Institute’s cooperative agreement with the UCF-based Center for Lunar and Asteroid Surface Science (CLASS).

This is not the first time that Cannon or UCF have contributed to the study of the soil of other planets. In 2018, they launched the Exolith lab, which produces experimental Martian, lunar, and asteroid dirt for research and testing.

Cannon joined UCF in 2017. He holds several degrees, including a doctorate in planetary geology from Brown University. He has published over 10 peer-reviewed papers and is a frequent guest lecturer at universities nationwide due to his work on the composition of small bodies and Mars, and on in situ resource use and weathering watery.


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