Scientists used radar technology to shed new light on the moon’s subsoil.
The researchers used the miniature radio frequency (Mini-RF) instrument on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft to analyze the moon. In a statement, NASA explained that the lunar subsoil could be richer in metals, such as iron and titanium, than previously thought.
The space agency is keen to get as much information about the moon’s resources as possible. NASA’s Artemis program aims to land American astronauts on the lunar surface by 2024 and establish a sustainable human presence on Earth’s natural satellite.
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“Substantial evidence points to the moon as the product of a collision between a Mars-sized protoplanet and the young Earth, which is formed by the gravitational collapse of the remaining cloud of debris,” said NASA. “As a result, the mass chemical composition of the moon closely resembles that of the Earth.”
However, there are key differences that have long confused scientists. “In the bright plains of the lunar surface, called the lunar highlands, the rocks contain lesser amounts of minerals containing metals than Earth does,” NASA said. “This finding could be explained if the Earth had completely differentiated into a core, mantle and crust before impact, leaving the moon largely metal-poor. But turn to the moon mary – the largest and darkest plains – and the abundance of metal becomes richer than that of many rocks on Earth. “
To solve this mystery, the scientists used Mini-RF to measure the electrical property, known as the dielectric constant, of the lunar soil on the crater planes in the northern hemisphere of the moon. The researchers found that electrical properties increased with the crater size for craters approximately 1 to 3 miles wide. For craters 3 to 12 miles wide, however, the electrical property remained constant.
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The discovery offers new information on the formation of the moon. “Since the meteors that form larger craters dig even deeper in the lunar subsoil, the team reasoned that the dielectric constant of the dust in the larger craters could be the result of meteors digging iron and titanium oxides that are below the surface, “added NASA’s statement. “Dielectric properties are directly related to the concentration of these metallic minerals.”
If this hypothesis is true, only the first hundreds of meters of the lunar surface have few iron and titanium oxides, according to NASA. “But below the surface, there is a steady increase in rich and unexpected wealth,” he said.
Scientists compared Mini-RF radar images to metal oxide maps from the LRO wide-angle camera, the Japanese mission Kaguya, and NASA’s Lunar Prospector spacecraft. “The larger craters, with their increased dielectric material, were also richer in metals, which suggests that more iron and titanium oxides had been excavated from the depths of 0.3 to 1 mile (0.5 to 2 kilometers ) that from above 0.1 to 0.3 miles (0.2 to 0.5 kilometers) of the lunar subsoil, “explained NASA.
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The research was published in the Earth and Planetary Science Letters journal. “It was an amazing relationship that we had no reason to believe it existed,” said Essam Heggy, lead author of the paper and co-investigator of the Mini-RF experiments of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
“The LRO mission and its radar instrument continue to surprise us with new insights into the origins and complexity of our closest neighbor,” said Wes Patterson, Mini-RF principal investigator of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, MD. . and a coauthor of the study.
In a separate project, an international team of scientists recently provided an explanation for the “strange asymmetry” of the dark side of the moon, which has a different composition from the near side facing Earth.
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When the first images of the farthest part of the moon emerged decades ago, scientists realized that it has almost no “maria”, or dark regions (from Latin for the sea). Only 1 percent of the far side was covered in maria compared to about 31 percent of the near side, the researchers explained.
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The new research suggests that this is due to the fact that the radioactive elements were “uniquely distributed” after the collision that formed the moon.
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