La Luna fa acqua da tutte le parti

di Paola P. 44

Acqua sulla Luna in quantità fino a cento volte superiori a quanto appurato finora dalla letteratura scientifica. A scoprirlo un recente studio condotto dall’équipe di scienziati coordinata da Erik H. Hauri, geochimico afferente alla Carnegie Institution di Washington, primo autore della ricerca pubblicata giovedì sull’autorevole rivista di divulgazione scientifica Science.

Per decenni si è creduto che il satellite in orbita attorno alla Terra fosse completamente asciutto. Due anni fa una sonda della NASA schiantatasi ha rilevato la presenza di ghiaccio all’interno di un profondo cratere lunare. Inoltre, le misurazioni effettuate da una stazione orbitante indiana avevano individuato una patina di acqua sulla superficie lunare, generata, si ipotizza, dal bombardamento di minuscole particelle del vento solare.

Dalle analisi più recenti, effettuate su piccoli frammenti di lava lunare induritasi, scaturita da antichissime eruzioni, si evince la presenza di acqua in proporzioni simili a quelle del magma terrestre. Una scoperta che ha colto di sorpresa gli stessi autori che proprio non si aspettavano una presenza così abbondante di acqua sulla Luna, tanto che Hauri ha ammesso di essere rimasto un po’ sorpreso nell’accertarlo, malgrado tre anni fa sia lui che molti dei co-autori di questo studio lo avessero predetto.
All’epoca esaminarono minuscole sfere di vetro vulcanico, del diametro di appena 0,2 millimetri, campioni prelevati dagli astronauti nell’ambito delle missioni Apollo 15 e 17 nel 1971 e nel 1972. All’interno misurarono, nel reperto più umido tra quelli esaminati, 46 parti per milione di acqua ovvero una percentuale dello 0.0046%.

 

La nuova scoperta è avvenuta grazie ad Alberto E. Saal, docente di scienze geologiche alla Brown University, che ha chiesto ad uno studente, Thomas Weinreich, di esaminare un campione di suolo lunare, granello per granello, al microscopio. Durante questa analisi il ricercatore ha identificato alcuni cristalli più chiari che contenevano una piccola quantità di vetro. Cristalli composti dal minerale olivina che ha trattenuto di fatto l’acqua nel vetro. Misurandone le percentuali si è così scoperto che nei cristalli c’era un quantitativo di acqua tra 20 e 100 volte superiore a quello individuato qualche anno fa nelle sfere di vetro vulcanico.
Il professor Saal si dice a questo punto certo che nelle viscere della Luna ci sia la stessa concentrazione di acqua presente nel mantello superiore della Terra.
Appena un anno fa, Zachary D. Sharp dell’Università del New Mexico aveva analizzato le concentrazioni di isotopi di cloro nelle rocce lunari, arrivando alla conclusione opposta, ovvero che le rocce erano state indurite dalla lava che non conteneva quasi per niente acqua.
Il quadro, secondo quanto afferma David J. Stevenson, docente di scienza planetaria al California Institute of Technology, resta ancora piuttosto confuso anche sull’origine della Luna e l’incertezza sui materiali di cui è costituita di certo infittisce il mistero.

[Fonte: NYT]

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