2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 210-60
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM


O'REILLY, Bryan E., School of Earth Sciences, The Ohio State University, 125 South Oval Mall, Columbus, OH 43210, oreilly.92@osu.edu

As an essential component in the cleanest and most efficient form of fusion, Helium-3 (He-3) has the potential to produce incredible magnitudes of energy. However, naturally occurring He-3 only makes up 1.37 parts per million of He on Earth. The U.S. stockpile of He-3 has gradually decreased since 2001, with the price of He-3 jumping from $200 to $2,000 per liter. This decrease is largely due to the Department of Homeland Security’s demand for neutron detection systems along our borders. Lacking an atmosphere, the moon’s surface is not shielded from the solar wind that carries He-3 produced by fusion within the sun. As the solar wind washes over the lunar surface the He-3 becomes embedded in the regolith. Analysis of Apollo samples shows that the regolith holds a minimum He-3 concentration of 20 ppb, which makes the regolith a viable source of He-3. Although satellite remote sensing cannot directly map this Helium isotope, it can map other parameters that indirectly correlate with concentrations of He-3. These parameters include the regolith’s solar exposure, titanium distribution, diurnal heating patterns, and polar migration of volatiles. Using satellite data from the NASA’s Lunar Prospector mission, two areas of considerable potential for holding large concentrations of He-3 were identified for further study. Mare Tranquillitatis (8.5˚N 31.4˚E), for example, has the highest concentration of Ti that is indicative of high He-3 concentrations. This area also provides access to other elements such as iron, hydrogen and oxygen, which would be essential in any mining mission. The South Pole Aitken basin also is of interest due to its large permanently shadowed areas that help to hold volatiles and prevent the migration of volatiles due to diurnal heating.