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Scientists at the European Space Agency are trying to extract oxygen from something very close to lunar soil.
The ESA team can't try their technique on actual lunar soil samples: the amounts brought back are tiny and too valuable.
Boffins - Chemical - Equivalent - Facility - Materials
Instead, the boffins have constructed a chemical equivalent, and are investigating, at a new facility at the Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory in the Netherlands, whether Moon dust could be a source of oxygen for lunar inhabitants.
Lunar regolith is the layer of soil and loose pebbles covering the Moon’s solid rocky surface. Scrapings of the stuff have revealed that it contains about 40 to 45 per cent oxygen by weight, making it the most abundant element in the lunar regolith.
Oxygen - Chemical - Compounds - Elements - Form
The oxygen is locked up in chemical compounds with other elements in the form of minerals or glass. In order to extract it, scientists must sprinkle some Moon dust onto calcium chloride salt and cook the mixture in a metallic cauldron to 950°C (1742°F). At these temperatures, the salt melts, splitting the compound into a soup of positive calcium ions and negative chlorine ions.
Next, electrodes are placed within the chemical concoction and an electric current is passed through. The oxygen in the regolith is released and travels through the molten salt mixture to be collected at the...
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