Preliminary results from the lunar prospector alpha particle spectrometer

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The Lunar Prospector Alpha Particle Spectrometer (LP APS) builds on Apollo heritage and maps the distribution of outgassing sites on the Moon. The APS searches for lunar surface gas release events and maps their distribution by detecting alpha particles produced by the decay of gaseous radon-222 (5.5 MeV, 3.8 day half-life) and solid polonium-210 (5.3 MeV, 138 day half-life, but remains on the surface with a 21 year half-life as lead-210), which are radioactive daughters from the decay of uranium-238. Radon is in such small quantities that it is not released directly from the lunar interior, rather it is entrained ... continued below

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2 p.

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Lawson, S. L. (Stefanie L.) January 1, 2001.

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The Lunar Prospector Alpha Particle Spectrometer (LP APS) builds on Apollo heritage and maps the distribution of outgassing sites on the Moon. The APS searches for lunar surface gas release events and maps their distribution by detecting alpha particles produced by the decay of gaseous radon-222 (5.5 MeV, 3.8 day half-life) and solid polonium-210 (5.3 MeV, 138 day half-life, but remains on the surface with a 21 year half-life as lead-210), which are radioactive daughters from the decay of uranium-238. Radon is in such small quantities that it is not released directly from the lunar interior, rather it is entrained in a stream of gases and serves as a tracer for such gases. Once released, the radon spreads out by 'bouncing' across the surface on ballistic trajectories in a random-walk process. The 3.8 day half-life of radon-222 allows the gas to spread out by several 100 km before it decays and allows the APS to detect gas release events up to a few days after they occur. The long residence time (10s of years) of the lead-210 precursor to the polonium-210 allows the mapping of gas vents which have been active over the last approximately 50 years. Because radon and polonium are daughter products of the decay of uranium, the background level of alpha particle activity is a function of the lunar crustal uranium distribution. Using radioactive radon and polonium as tracers, the Apollo 15 and 16 Command Module orbital alpha particle experiments obtained evidence for the release of gases at several sites beneath the orbit tracks, especially over the Aristarchus Plateau and Mare Fecunditatis [1]. Aristarchus crater had previously been identified by ground-based observers as the site of transient optical events [2]. The Apollo 17 surface mass spectrometer showed that argon-40 is released from the lunar interior every few months, apparently in concert with some of the shallow moonquakes that are believed to be of tectonic origin [3]. The latter tectonic events could be associated with very young scarps identified in the lunar highlands [4] and are believed to indicate continued global contraction. Such quakes could open fissures leading to the release of gases that are trapped below the surface. The detection of radon-222 outgassing events at the margins of Fecunditatis basin was surprising because the observed surface distribution of uranium and thorium do not extend sufficiently eastward to cover Fecunditatis. If the Apollo detections prove sound, then those alpha particle emissions indicate substantial subsurface concentrations of uranium-238 within Fecunditatis. A primary goal of the APS was to map gas-release events, thus allowing both an appraisal of the current level of tectonic activity on the Moon and providing a probe of subsurface uranium concentrations.

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2 p.

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  • "Submitted to: 32nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, Houston, Texas, March 12-16, 2001."

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  • Report No.: LA-UR-01-0535
  • Report No.: LA-UR-01-535
  • Grant Number: none
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 975126
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc934628

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  • January 1, 2001

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • Nov. 13, 2016, 7:26 p.m.

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  • Dec. 12, 2016, 12:45 p.m.

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Lawson, S. L. (Stefanie L.). Preliminary results from the lunar prospector alpha particle spectrometer, article, January 1, 2001; United States. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc934628/: accessed August 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.