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Space Weathering IV

February 18, 2010

KUHLMAN: Basically, I have a sample of rock. Here's some of the bytonite, which is plagioclase. I tried to get as clean a piece of the sample as I could..... Then the other side we polish the heck out of, trying to remove all mechanical damage.

Most space science is done on giant scales -- using big telescopes or expensive spacecraft to study big objects that are far, far away.

But Kim Kuhlman is doing space science on a much smaller scale. The Planetary Science Institute researcher is studying space weathering -- ways in which the surfaces of the Moon and other airless bodies are changed by outside influences.

KUHLMAN: The basic question I'm trying to answer is what process, what mechanism is actually causing space weathering.

One of those mechanisms is the solar wind -- a steady flow of particles from the Sun.

KUHLMAN: This is an 8-inch silicon wafer. We try to put the samples round about here, halfway between the center and the edge, [fade to background] ... So it's just a matter of coming up with the right dose to simulate what we see on the Moon.

Kuhlman is simulating the solar wind in a vacuum chamber, using a process like that used to make semiconductors. She places a small mineral sample atop a silicon wafer, then "implants" hydrogen and helium -- a process that's like the solar wind embedding itself in the lunar surface. She then uses several techniques to see how much of the hydrogen and helium are implanted.

Her results will help scientists interpret the observations from spacecraft in lunar orbit -- big-scale science that's helped by small-scale science.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

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