Monday, May 30, 2011

What The Last Man On The Moon Picked Up

Harrison Schmitt was the last man on the moon and he collected soil samples.  These languished in a drawer for 40 years. Recently Erik Hauri,  a staff scientist in geochemistry at the Carnegie Institute for Science and his student Tom Weinreich from Brown University examined these samples and found that tiny moon crystals contained inclusions of magma. Using an ion microprobe they were able to measure the amount of water in these magma inclusions and make an estimate of how much water may be present in the interior of the moon - trapped in such crystals.

The answer is a lot... about the amount of water in the Mediterranean sea... but it is dispersed and there is no efficient way to collect it in useful amounts.  According to Prof. Hauri the water in the lunar magma inclusions is in amounts similar to water expected in the Earth's upper mantle.

On Science Friday Ira Flatow discusses this discovery with Erik Hauri and what it means for our understanding of the evolution of the earth and moon system and specifically the implications for the origin of water on early earth and the moon.

The presence of water ice in craters near the north and south poles of the moon was known from recent remote sensing sorties by spacecraft from U.S  and India. Erik Hauri speculates on how this water in the lunar craters came to be.. is it of very ancient volcanic origin, sourced ultimately from the magma he measured?.. that water may be billions of years old since volcanism was present only in the very early history of the moon.. or is that water a later addition, plastered on to the surface of the moon by comets and meteorites?..

There is still much to learn about lunar evolution.

Listen / Transcript

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