Near-UV and near-IR reflectance studies of lunar swirls: Implications for nanosize iron content and the nature of anomalous space weathering

1David T.Blewett,1Brett W.Denevi,1Joshua T.S.Cahill,1Rachel L.Klima
Icarus (in Press) Link to Article []
1Planetary Exploration Group, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, MS200-W230, 11100 Johns Hopkins Rd., Laurel, MD 20723, USA
Copyright Elsevier

We performed an analysis of spacecraft multispectral images for lunar swirls in order to gain an improved understanding of optical space weathering on the Moon and its causes. LROC WAC data provide information on the slope of the spectrum in the near-UV (NUV), as measured by the 321-nm/415-nm or 321-nm/360-nm reflectance ratios. Kaguya MI data were used to assess the near-infrared (NIR) continuum slope (1548-nm/749-nm reflectance ratio). Context for interpreting the spectral variations found in the remotely observed regions of the lunar surface is provided by laboratory reflectance spectra of lunar rocks and soils, as well as spectra for transparent silica gel analogs (Noble et al., 2007) containing different sizes and abundances of nanometer-sized iron (nsFe) particles. We gain additional insights into the spectral effects of sample maturity by considering the ferromagnetic resonance parameter (Is) values for mare and highland soils, as well as the number density of nsFe particles in the silica gels.

We examined a set of three mare swirls (Reiner Gamma, Ingenii, and Mare Marginis) and three highland swirls (Airy, Descartes, and Gerasimovich). The NIR continuum slopes of both mare and highland swirls are shallower than those of the nearby normal mature regolith. Bright swirl surfaces have higher NIR slopes than normal fresh material of the same albedo. The NUV ratios within mare swirls are lower than in the mature background, but for highland swirls, the NUV ratios are approximately the same as the mature background. We do not see definitive evidence for “over-maturation” (excessive darkening and reddening beyond that found in the normal background surfaces) in dark lanes at the swirls we examined, although saturation of weathering effects at a high-iron location like Reiner Gamma could prevent over-maturation from appearing – even if enhanced solar-wind bombardment related to deflection by local magnetic fields is taking place.

Evaluation of the NIR character of swirls and comparison with lab spectra of lunar soils and nsFe-bearing silica gel analogs leads to the conclusion that swirl materials contain abundances of nsFe that are lower than that of normal non-swirl background surfaces; the nsFe content of swirls corresponds to immature (though not pristine) or submature soils. However, the size distribution of nsFe in swirls is anomalous compared with normal lunar surfaces, with a deficiency in the smaller size range (< ~15 nm), as inferred from the NUV character of swirls. Because the flux of solar-wind ions reaching the surface in swirls is attenuated by shielding by crustal magnetic fields, we conclude that solar-wind exposure is the primary agent for production of small nsFe in normal lunar space weathering. Micrometeoroid bombardment, which is unimpeded by the presence of magnetic fields, is mainly responsible for production of larger nsFe in space weathering.


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