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The Moon is a surprisingly strong source of hydrogen atoms. That is the surprise discovery from ESA-ISRO instrument SARA onboard the Indian Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter. It gives scientists an interesting new way to study both the Moon and any other airless bodies in the Solar System.

According to conventional wisdom, the lunar surface is a loose collection of irregular dust grains. Any particle that hits it should bounce between the grains and be absorbed. But the new results clearly show that one out of every five protons incoming from the solar wind rebounds from the Moon's surface. In the process, the proton joins with an electron to become an atom of hydrogen.

"We didn't expect to see this at all," says Stas Barabash, Swedish Institute of Space Physics, who is the European Principal Investigator for the (Sub-keV Atom Reflecting Analyzer) SARA instrument, which made the discovery. "It's an amazing discovery for the planetary scientific community in general and for the lunar science in particular", says Anil Bhardwaj, who is the Indian Principal Investigator from the Space Physics Laboratory, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Trivandrum. SARA was one of three instruments that ESA contributed to Chandrayaan-1, the lunar orbiter that completed its mission in August 2009 and built jointly by scientific groups from Sweden, India, Japan, and Switzerland.



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