Miscellaneous Minor Elements
Section M 8.5.
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Sulfur on the Moon

     TABLE 1.  Sulfur in lunar samples.
     Rock or Soil Type                 Sulfur Content (wt%)
     High-Ti mare basalts (A-17)       0.16 to 0.27   avg 0.21
     Low-Ti mare basalts (A-12)        0.06 to 0.15   avg 0.11
     High-Ti mare soils (A-17)         0.06 to 0.13   avg 0.10
     Low-Ti mare soils (A-15)          0.05 to 0.06   avg 0.05
     Highland rocks (A-16)             0.01 to 0.14   avg 0.07
     Highland soils (A-16)             0.03 to 0.09   avg 0.06

     From: D. Vaniman, D. Pettit, and G. Heiken, "Uses of
Lunar Sulfur,"
     2nd Conference on Lunar Bases, p. 429; 1988

Vaniman, et al., suggest that sulfur may also occur as metal sulfates that are readily volatized to produce sulfur dioxide, SO2.

Heating experiments by E. K. Gibson, Jr. and G. W. Moore ("Carbon and sulfur distributions and abundances in lunar fines," Proceedings of the 4th Lunar Science Conference, 1973) on Apollo 15 and 16 samples show that if you heat the lunar soil under vacuum conditions, you get:

Temperature (°C) Sulfur Extracted (%)
750 12-30 %
950 50-70 %
1100 95 %

The sulfur is given off mainly as SO2 or H2S. Heating the soil also gives you lots of other neat stuff.

Incidentally, there are lots of other useful things we can do with sulfur besides making sulfuric acid. Vaniman, et al., suggest sulfur concrete, sealants, liquid sulfur dioxide as a working fluid, solar energy conversion, electrical energy storage (batteries produced on the moon), sulfuric acid for destruction of organic waste, thermochemical water-splitting, a fluxing agent to reduce the melting point of glass, and as a rocket fuel.

Sulfur has an important role in the biochemical processes of plant and animal life, too.

These guys hint that subsurface mining might find richer deposits of the stuff, since the way it got deposited on the surface was that sulfur was probably the driver behind pyroclastic explosions while the moon was forming.

Miscellaneous Minor Elements

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