How surface composition and meteoroid impacts mediate sodium and potassium in the lunar exosphere

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Science  15 Jan 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6270, pp. 249-252
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad2380

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The Moon's time-variable exosphere

Earth's Moon does not have a conventional gaseous atmosphere, but instead an “exosphere” of particles ejected from the surface. Colaprete et al. have used NASA's LADEE orbiter to investigate how the exosphere varies over time, by using the glow from sodium and potassium atoms as a probe (see the Perspective by Dukes and Hurley). The exosphere composition varies by a factor of 2 to 3 over the course of a month, as different parts of the Moon are exposed to sunlight. There are also increases shortly after the Moon passes through streams of meteoroids.

Science, this issue p. 249; see also p. 230


Despite being trace constituents of the lunar exosphere, sodium and potassium are the most readily observed species due to their bright line emission. Measurements of these species by the Ultraviolet and Visible Spectrometer (UVS) on the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) have revealed unambiguous temporal and spatial variations indicative of a strong role for meteoroid bombardment and surface composition in determining the composition and local time dependence of the Moon’s exosphere. Observations show distinct lunar day (monthly) cycles for both species as well as an annual cycle for sodium. The first continuous measurements for potassium show a more repeatable variation across lunations and an enhancement over KREEP (Potassium Rare Earth Elements and Phosphorus) surface regions, revealing a strong dependence on surface composition.

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