06 Dec 2007

Road trip clues for Moon missions from an Open University researcher

4.35 billion years old

4.35 billion years old

There are currently two spacecraft orbiting the moon, one from Japan and one from China. India is planning an orbiter and a lander on the moon next April. The US will follow with a series of missions starting with an orbiter next year and with an intention to have permanent bases on the moon by 2020.

At The Open University, research into how the Moon has evolved since its formation will give all these missions a better understanding of what they’re looking at.

Dr Mahesh Anand has co-authored a paper, published this week in Nature, that dates basaltic volcanic activity on the moon to 4.35 billion years ago. Dr Anand, along with Dr Kentaro Terada of Hiroshima University, Japan and colleagues came to this conclusion after dating minerals in a lunar meteorite dubbed Kalahari 009 — some were associated with fragments of crystallized magma from the earliest eruptions on the Moon's vast plains. Other lunar rock samples collected during Apollo missions are the result of more recent eruptions.

The authors consider it likely that this volcanism began while the Moon's crust was forming. They say that Kalahari 009 is the first 'cryptomare' sample from the Moon — conveyer of a hidden signature of its earliest history. “Our research gives an insight into timing and duration of basaltic volcanism on the Moon since its formation” Dr Anand says. “We found some of the answers in one of the oldest basaltic rock from the moon.”

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