Scientists Think the Moon Is Rusting

The moon might be rusting. According to new data obtained by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the moon's surface has slightly started to red, tipping off scientists to the presence of a reddish material called hematite near the satellite's poles.

If you recall from science class, rust — or iron oxide, if you want to get fancy — will only form when iron comes in contact with water and oxygen. If you've watched any space documentary, Ad Astra, or heck even Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon, you'll know the moon is without both oxygen and water — at least in the traditional sense — even more so near the poles, where the hematite deposits were found.

"It's very puzzling," University of Hawaii researcher Shuai Li said in a statement released by NASA. "The Moon is a terrible environment for hematite to form in."

"At first, I totally didn't believe it. It shouldn't exist based on the conditions present on the moon," study co-author Abigail Fraeman, added. "But since we discovered water on the moon, people have been speculating that there could be a greater variety of minerals than we realize if that water had reacted with rocks."

So how did it get there? While it has yet to be proven, scientists that took part in this study think the material could have come from Earth, causing the reactions on the moon's surface. Though it doesn't have an atmosphere, the Moon is home to traces of oxygen that has traveled from Earth; as it turns out, it might be just enough to form iron oxide.

“This discovery will reshape our knowledge about the moon’s polar regions,” Li. “Earth may have played an important role in the evolution of the moon’s surface.”


The entire study can be read in Science Advances.

Cover photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images