Nanoparticles in Glass Bubbles May Explain Strange Behavior of Moon's Topsoil

By Chelsea Whyte on June 13, 2012 8:06 PM EDT

Moon rock bubble
3D imaging shows a highly porous cellular structure inside a vesicular void in a glassy fragment of Moon rock (Photo: (Marek Zbik et al))

Soil unlike anything seen on Earth is found on the Moon, and until now, the source of nanoparticles within the planet's terrain was unknown.

Lunar soil samples have been studied since they were brought back with the Apollo astronauts, but a new technique for studying nanoparticles allowed Marek Zbik from Queensland University of Technology to make 3D images of the particles with a transmission X-ray microscope.

Soil on the lunar surface has unusual properties; it is electro-statically charged, so it actually floats above the lunar surface. It is very chemically active, and is both sticky and highly abrasive, according to TG Daily.

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Zbik studied glass bubbles that form when meteorites hit the surface of the Moon and create molten rocks. Without an atmosphere like Earth's to protect it, the Moon takes hits from asteroids without a cushion, resulting is violent reactions and high temperatures. The

"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," he said.

This finding may explain some of the strange properties of the Moon's soil. Nanoparticles behave according to the laws of quantum physics, which still isn't fully understood. Zbik said it is the tiny size of nanoparticles and not what they're made of that accounts for their exceptional properties, according to The Hindu.

"We don't understand a lot about quantum physics yet but it could be that these nano particles, when liberated from their glass bubble, mix with the other soil constituents and give lunar soil its unusual properties," said Zbik.

Understanding how these particles evolved from the volatile processes on the Moon may lead to new ways of manufacturing nanomaterials, he said.  

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