“Our current views need to be readjusted” says one researcher about how long our beloved white globe has been hot and volcanically active.
Late last year, a Chinese space capsule delivered fresh samples of the Moon to Earth for the first time in nearly four decades, and these precious lunar rocks revealed a new detail about our planet’s brightest companion. Its volcanoes were alive and active for much longer than scientists thought.
“Our whole experience tells us that the Moon must have been cold and dead by 2 billion years ago. But it is not, and the question is ‘why?'” said author Alexander Nemchin, a professor of geology at Curtin University in Australia. The analysis, published Thursday in the journal Science.
Together with a wide and international team of researchers, Nemchin discovered that some of the newly transported Moon rocks contain lunar fragments from days after the White Orb’s timeline. These fragments from about two ages ago are relatively young. But here’s the kicker: Those same pieces are also the remains of a volcanic eruption.
Connecting the dots, the team members felt they were making solid confirmation that the lunar surface was alive long enough in the game.
“We need to dig deeper with this,” remarked Nemchin. “We are highlighting that our current views are in need of re-adjustment – further research will show how dramatic this adjustment should be.”
Welcome back, Lunar Research
The saga began in December last year, when China’s Chang’e 5 mission sent a spacecraft to scrape the surface of the Moon and collect samples of various types of rock and dust for Earth-based analysis. It returned with about 4 pounds (2 kilograms) of extraterrestrial material.
The last time lunar samples were brought to our home planet was in 1976, a feat achieved by the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission. But before that, NASA’s Apollo missions ran multiple times from Earth to the Moon – the crusade returned photos,and personal tales of astronauts.
“There was some need and drive to do this 50 years ago,” Nemchin explained. “Then,And everyone moved on to something else.” But now, he says, “we have the Moon back in focus.”
He said lunar research is important not only from an astronomy standpoint, but also because any attempt to visit the Moon – or indeed, any space exploration – accelerates technologies that will ultimately benefit us on Earth. Huh.
An example of such a serious technique comes from research by Australian physicists in the 90s. They developed a highly complex mathematical tool in the hopes of detecting faint signs of black holes that have disappeared into the universe. Unfortunately, he never found any – but his invention paved the way for modern Wi-Fi.
Moon Rock Science
“Every new sample gives us a big boost in understanding what’s going on, simply because we still have so few of them,” commented Nemchin. “Apollo samples have been worked on for the past 50 years and are still being actively investigated.”
Analyzing rocks brought back by Chang’e 5, Nemchin and fellow researchers were the first to investigate what types were present. In particular, they were followed by fragments of basalt, which are related to volcanic activity.
“We need to get an idea about the chemical composition of the pieces to be able to compare [them] for a large basaltic area visible from orbit,” he said. “And, make sure [those] The fragments represent this region of basalt and do not come from anywhere else.”
Then, the scientists confirmed the specific ages of the pieces of interest. Confirming that these fragments are young was one of the main goals of the mission. In this way the team members hope to prove their hypothesis of a more recently active volcanic moon than the textbooks suggest.
“All the basalts we have before are more than 3 billion years old,” Nemchin said. “We had some very young points determined from material ejected from very young impacts – impact melts – but nothing in between. Now we have a point in the middle of the gap.”
Such age determination is called crater counting, something the team hopes to continue doing in the future to obtain the full range of rocks to map each generation of the Moon. Nemchin also notes that some interesting chemical features were found in the basalt samples, including a high iron content, which is not present in any other recovered fragments of the lunar surface.
He says further chemical research on the rocks will help answer new questions posed by the team’s new findings, such as discovering Source Lunar volcanic activity occurred a few billion years ago because of the heat.
And at the end of the day, Australian geologists stress that “what’s important to me in all of this is that we managed to bring in a large international group of people to work on the sample.”
“Somehow,” he said, “in the current situation when international travel is still restricted, I interacted more with different people than in previous years, when we could move around in any way we liked. “