New research indicates that the Moon may have had water and an atmosphere during the period of its formation that could have supported life.
The Moon looms in the sky, a barren rock with no atmosphere and weak gravity pulled into orbit around the Earth. The gray satellite seems to be the deadest object in the night sky, but scientists now believe that it may have once been able to support life, according to the Daily Mail.
In fact, not only is it possible that the Moon once had the conditions to support life, but there may have actually been living organisms thriving on the surface of the Moon during at least two times in the four billion years it’s been around.
The two periods in the Moon’s history when it could have supported life were in the period immediately after it was formed and a point around 3.5 billion years ago when volcanic activity on the Moon peaked, according to new research.
The findings are remarkable because of how rare the conditions to support life are in the universe. Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to locate any other planet apart from Earth that either supports life or has the potential to be inhabited.
The study was conducted by astrobiologists at Washington State University (WSU) and University of London, who think that there was a possibility that simple lifeforms thrived on the surface of the Moon during these two small windows.
The Moon may have once had an atmosphere dense enough to hold water expelled from the lunar interior by outgassing from volcanic activity. This water may have formed liquid pools on its surface that likely remained for millions of years.
Professor Dirk Schulze-Makuch of WSU said, “If liquid water and a significant atmosphere were present on the early Moon for long periods of time, we think the lunar surface would have been at least transiently habitable.”
Between 2009 and 2010, an astonishing discovery was made by an international team of scientists. They found an estimated 600 million metric tons of water ice on the satellite located in the shadowy regions of permanently darkened craters near its north pole.
Other research has also provided strong evidence for the presence of large quantities of water in the mantle of the orbiting body. The presence of the water is said to date back to the formation of the Moon, which is when it was deposited in the mantle.
In order to protect any lifeforms on it from the onslaught of deadly solar winds, the Moon must have also had a magnetic field to protect it. Scientists have hypothesized that during the initial stages of the Moon’s formation, it must have generated a magnetic field strong enough to shield life on it.
Theories of how life on the Moon may have originated are similar to those that believe that the origins of life on Earth could be traced back to meteorites that collided with the planet between 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago, possibly bringing in cyanobacteria.
Another theory posited by scientists is that cyanobacteria on the Earth’s surface could have also been transported to the Moon by meteorite impacts that blasted rocks off the Earth’s surface. These rocks could have then ended up on the lunar surface.
Schulze-Makuch said, “It looks very much like the Moon was habitable at this time. There could have actually been microbes thriving in water pools on the Moon until the surface became dry and dead.” Whether life arose on the Moon or came from extralunar sources “can only be addressed by an aggressive future program of lunar exploration.”
The scientists also suggested that the International Space Station and Scientists on Earth carry out experiments that seek to replicate the lunar environment during the periods mentioned in order to test if microorganisms are able to survive under the conditions mentioned.
by Joshua George