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With Explore the Planets, investigate the planets, their moons, and understand the processes that shape them. By G. Jeffrey Taylor, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.
This drawing shows how individual molecules may move near the surface of the Moon to form an atmosphere.

The Lunar Atmosphere

People used to think that moons such as the Earth's moon had no atmosphere whatsoever. Now, however, measurements have shown that most of these moons are surrounded by a *very* thin region of molecules which can *almost* be called an atmosphere. Such is the case with the Moon.

The atmosphere may come from a couple of places, one place is outgassing or the release of gases from deep within the Moon's interior.

Another source, as shown in this diagram, are molecules which are loosened from the surface when other molecules from space hit the ground. These molecules may migrate across the surface of the Moon, to colder regions where they re-freeze into the ground. Or they may fly off into space. This is one way lunar water may be formed.

Molecules from space come from the solar wind. Because its surface is protected by neither an atmosphere nor a magnetosphere, the Moon is constantly exposed to the solar wind. These molecules get buried in the Moon's surface. Eventually scientists on Earth will understand more about a process, called nuclear fusion, which is another way create energy. Then these molecules buried in the Moon's surface may become an important source of fuel for energy.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF