SEP 11, 2018 9:27 PM PDT

Lunar Rock Samples Collected by the Apollo Astronauts May Not Tell the Moon's Entire Story

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

While some researchers study our planet to learn more about its history and formation, other researchers focus their efforts on alternative bodies in the solar system, such as the Moon.

A famous photo of the Apollo astronauts during their stay on the Moon.

Image Credit: NASA

The lunar rock samples collected by NASA astronauts during the Apollo missions are particularly important in such research because they offer insight about our natural satellite’s chemical makeup. But can these samples tell us everything we need to know about the Moon’s history?

Researchers with the University of Perdue aren’t so sure about that; they argue their case in a recent study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

NASA’s lunar rock samples contain small glass spherules that allegedly materialized in the significant temperatures sustained during lunar impacts. As you might come to expect, some of the spherules are older than others, and this element can speak to how long ago impacts transpired.

The samples contained more younger spherules than older ones, and so scientists have long believed that the Moon sustained more impacts in the recent past than it did 4 million years ago. But the curious Perdue researchers weren’t fooled by the far-fetched notion; instead, they questioned its validity with science.

Related: Israel will soon put an unmanned spacecraft on the Moon

Upon generating a computer model that dispersed lunar glass spherules in the most logical fashion possible, the researchers found that lunar impact occurrences were likely consistent all along. That said, the idea that lunar impacts suddenly kicked up around 500 million years ago is probably false.

Instead, the researchers propose that the sample collected by the Apollo astronauts doesn’t tell the entire story and that we could be putting too much faith for understanding the Moon’s history into one particular sample.

On Earth, a rock collected in the Grand Canyon would tell an entirely different story about our planet’s composition than a rock collected in the Himalayan Mountains. That said, wouldn’t it make sense to say that a lunar rock collected from another part of the Moon might possess unlike qualities when compared to the samples we have today?

In a nutshell, that’s the same argument proposed by the researchers. Perhaps collecting samples several meters below the lunar surface would tell a more accurate story about the Moon’s history than samples collected mere centimeters below its surface.

"The astronauts used a rake to collect samples from the surface of the moon, but if they were able to take samples from a few meters deeper, we might see a more accurate age distribution," explained David Minton, a co-author of the study.

"If we ever go back to the moon, we could collect samples differently and actually see if the rate of impacts has changed."

Related: Rusty lunar rock hints that the Moon sports a dry interior

There are plans to send humans to the Moon again, so such a proposition may not be too far out of reach. Getting to the bottom of this mystery is an essential step toward understanding not only our Moon’s history, but the Earth’s as well.

Source: Phys.org, Geophysical Research Letters

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
NOV 19, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 19, 2019
Apollo 12 - A Dramatic Journey Led by the Desire to Explore
On November 19th, the Apollo 12 astronauts, Pete Conrad and Alan Bean, became, respectively, the third and the fourth men to ever walk on the Moon’s...
DEC 09, 2019
Clinical & Molecular DX
DEC 09, 2019
Astronauts help to advanced personalized medicine
Extreme temperatures and lethal levels of radiation are just some of the hazards faced by astronauts as they traverse the harsh conditions of space. Additi...
DEC 03, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 03, 2019
Will ISRO Succeed At Building its Own Space Station?
When hearing the words “space station,” the International Space Station probably comes to mind; but the International Space Station wasn’...
JAN 05, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 05, 2020
It's Finally the Year of the Mars 2020 Mission
It’s officially 2020, and with that in mind, anyone paying attention to NASA’s launch schedule should know already that the Mars 2020 rover is...
FEB 04, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
FEB 04, 2020
A Gamma-Ray Burst Like Nothing Else Before
Gamma-ray bursts (GRB) are among the most explosive and energetic celestial events that have been observed by astronomers. Since its first detection back i...
FEB 04, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 04, 2020
What Are NASA's 'Great Observatories?'
NASA recently retired its Spitzer Space Telescope, one of four specialized space-based observatories that together made up the American Space Agency’...
Loading Comments...