Radar Implying the Moon is More Metallic Than Scientists Thought

Radar Implying the Moon is More Metallic Than Scientists Thought
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The Moon is More Metallic Than Scientists Previous Thought

The more we learn about our nearest neighbor, the more we understand that the Moon is a dynamic place with valuable resources that could one day even support human presence.

What started as a quest for ice hiding in polar lunar craters turned into a fantastic finding that could help clear some obscure history about the Moon’s formation.

The Mini-RF team members or the Miniature Radio Frequency instrument on NASA’s LRO or Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft found new evidence that the lunar’s subsurface might be more abundant in metals, like iron and titanium, than researchers thought. 



Earth and Planetary Science Letters

The findings, published July 1 in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, could help draw a more precise connection between Earth and the Moon.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission and its radar instrument continue to surprise with new insights about our nearest satellite’s origins and complexity, according to Wes Patterson, Mini-RF principal researcher from the Johns Hopkins APL or Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

Substantial evidence points to our Moon as the collision product between a Mars-sized protoplanet and a young Earth, developing from the gravitational collapse of the lingering cloud of debris. Consequently, the Moon’s bulk chemical composition closely matches that of Earth.



The Moon’s Chemical Composition

Look in detail at our Moon’s chemical composition, though, and that story turns dim. In the bright plains of the lunar surface, called the lunar highlands, rocks hold smaller amounts of metal-bearing minerals relative to Earth. 

And that finding might be explained if Earth had fully differentiated into a core, mantle, and crust before the impact, leaving the Moon mostly metal-poor. 

Still, turn to the Moon’s maria — the extensive, darker plains — and the metal excess becomes richer than many rocks on planet Earth.

The Miniature Radio Frequency Team

This difference has baffled scientists, leading to various questions and hypotheses regarding how much the impacting protoplanet may have added to the differences. The Miniature Radio Frequency Team found a curious pattern that could lead to an answer.

Using Mini-RF, the scientists attempted to measure an electrical property within the Moon’s soil piled on crater floors in the Moon’s northern hemisphere. And this electrical property is recognized as the dielectric constant, a number that compares the related abilities of material and the vacuum of space to transmit electric fields. It could help locate ice hiding in the Moon crater shadows. The team, nevertheless, noticed this property increasing with crater size.

For Mooncraters approximately 1 to 3 miles or 2 to 5 kilometers wide, the dielectric constant of the material steadily grew as the craters grew more substantial. Still, for Mooncraters 3 to 12 miles or 5 to 20 kilometers wide, the property remained constant.



Essam Heggy The Investigator of The Mini-RF Experiments

And it was a surprising relationship that the scientists had no reason to believe would exist, according to Essam Heggy. He is a co-investigator of the Mini-RF experiments from the famous University of Southern California, located in Los Angeles. He is the lead author of the published paper.

The Discovery of this pattern opened the door to a new possibility. Because meteors that form huge Mooncraters also dig deeper into the lunar’s subsurface. 

The team concluded that the increasing dielectric constant of the lunar dust in larger craters could be the result of meteors unearthing iron and titanium oxides that lie below the Moon’s surface. Dielectric properties are linked to the concentration of these metal minerals.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

If their hypothesis were correct, it would mean just the first few hundred meters of the Moon’s surface is scant in titanium and iron oxides. Still, below the lunar surface, there’s a steady increase to a rich and surprising bonanza.

Matching lunar crater floor radar images from Miniature Radio Frequency instrument with metal oxide maps from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Wide-Angle Camera, Japan’s Kaguya mission, and NASA’s Lunar Prospector spacecraft, the team found what it had speculated. 

The larger Mooncraters, with their increased dielectric material, were also more abundant in metals, suggesting that more titanium and iron oxides had been excavated from the depths of 0.3 to 1 mile or 0.5 to 2 kilometers than from the upper 0.1 to 0.3 miles or 0.2 to 0.5 kilometers of the Moon’s subsurface.



NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

This exciting result from the Miniature Radio Frequency instrument shows that even after eleven years in operation at the Moon, the scientists still making discoveries about the ancient history of our only satellite. According to the LRO project properties scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. 

The MINI-RF data is amazingly valuable for telling us about the characteristics of the Moon’s surface. Still, we use that data to infer what was happening over 4.5 billion years ago.

Those results follow recent evidence from NASA’s GRAIL or Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory mission that implies a significant mass of dense material exists just a few tens to hundreds of kilometers beneath the lunar huge South Pole-Aitken basin. This is indicating that dense materials aren’t uniformly distributed in the lunar’s subsurface.



The distribution of iron and titanium oxides in the Moon’s subsurface.

Furthermore, the team emphasizes that the new study can’t directly answer the outstanding questions about our Moon’s formation. Still, it does reduce the uncertainty in the distribution of iron and titanium oxides in the Moon’s subsurface and provide critical evidence needed to better understand the Moon’s formation and its connection to Earth.

It also raises the question of what this means for our previous formation hypotheses.

Eager to uncover more, the scientists have already started studying crater floors in the Moon’s vast southern hemisphere. It is to see if the same trends exist.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center located in Greenbelt, Maryland, for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Mini-RF was designed, built, and tested by a team led by Naval Air Warfare Center, APL, Sandia National Laboratories, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon.

Thanks for reading. If you want to know more interesting facts about our only neighbor, then head over to this article called; Moon Facts – Interesting & Strange Facts About The Moon.

Take a look at this Moon lamp. It is perfect as a nightlight and illuminates the room, and it’s so soothing that you will pass out into a deep sleep with it on. It’s a must-have for any space enthusiasts.


Metallic Moon