Section M 8.
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Organic Molecules on the Moon

The questions of organic molecules and life on the moon might keep the Artemis Society's Lunar Science Technical Committee debating for years. Here's some brain fodder on that subject.

We seem to be overlooking some important facts:

  1. Organic molecules are a necessary but not sufficient indicator of life as we know it. (Life as we know it consists of self-replicating molecules based on long-chain hydrocarbon proteins.)

  2. Organic molecules can be created by non-living chemical processes.

  3. All we know about the moon below the surface layer of dust comes from a few widely spaced core samples, some seismological readings, a little bit of penetrating radar, and extrapolation of geological data based on observations of the earth.

  4. The moon as we know it is geologically inactive and, except for the very top surface of dust, maintains a constant, cool temperature. However, the moon has a long history, and we have barely glimpsed the record of that history.

  5. Even today, lunar transient events indicate that the moon is not completely quiescent. Expulsion of volatiles from the moon is very rare, but not zero.

  6. We think of the moon in terms of geological time scales. However, the time scale of life is measured in milliseconds rather than millenia.

  7. Life, once it gets started, is very tenacious. As long as local conditions will support the chemical reations, these molecules continue to replicate themselves with a ferocity otherwise unobserved in the universe.

  8. Terrestrial life exists in a very large range of temperatures, pressures, and chemical environments.

So, I don't think we can say with certainty that there are no organic molecules on the moon. Or rather, I should say "in" the moon. Luna has been pummeled with all sorts of amusing chunks of stuff since the beginning of the solar system. Among those chunks are carbonaceous chondrites and water-ice meteorites.

With no other data to go on, my best guess is that the conditions for creating forms of life have existed on the moon in many (perhaps millions) of little pockets of time and location over the past few billion years.

As to whether any of those events resulted in self-replicating molecules, I must remain firmly agnostic; at least until we get there and do some serious digging. The most we can say is that, as best we can tell, it is unlikely that life-supporting conditions exist today anywhere on the surface of the moon.


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