According to a recent study, the Moon received the native noble gases helium and neon from the Earth’s mantle.
According to a study published on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, scientists from the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH), Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, have found the first unambiguous evidence that the Moon received native noble gases from the Earth’s mantle.
The discovery of solar gases in lunar basaltic materials for the first time, unrelated to any exposure to the lunar surface, was a particularly interesting finding, according to Patrizia Will, a cosmochemist and the study’s principal researcher at Washington University in St. Louis.
Humans have always been fascinated by the Moon. Scientists did not, however, start taking it seriously until the time of Galileo.
The origin of the Moon has been the subject of various, hotly contested theories over the span of roughly five centuries.
A group of geochemists, cosmochemists, and petrologists has now provided fresh insight into the Moon’s formation.
The finding is a crucial piece in the jigsaw of how the Moon, and perhaps the Earth and other celestial bodies, were created.
The well-known “Giant Impact” theory, which contends that the Moon was created by a significant impact between Earth and another celestial body, is further constrained by this finding.
From the Moon to Antarctica, meteorites
As part of her dissertation work at ETH Zurich, Patrizia Will studied six lunar meteorite samples from an Antarctic collection that NASA had provided.
The basalt rock used in the meteorites was created when lava rose from the Moon’s interior and rapidly cooled. Following their development, further layers of basalt were added to cover them, protecting the stone from cosmic radiation, particularly solar wind.
According to the research, among the other minerals present in magma, lunar glass particles were formed during the cooling phase.
Will and his coworkers found that the glass particles still have the helium and neon chemical fingerprints (isotopic signatures) of the moon.
In the lack of an atmosphere, asteroids continue to bombard the surface of the Moon. Similar to the huge expanses known as the Lunar Mare, the meteorites were most likely expelled from the intermediate layers of the lava flow by a high-energy impact.
At some point, the rock bits arrived on Earth as meteorites. According to the research, many of these meteorite samples are discovered in North African deserts or, in this case, Antarctica’s “cold desert,” where they are simpler to see in the landscape.
Instrument of inspiration: “Tom Dooley”
Modern noble gas mass spectrometer “Tom Dooley” is housed in the Noble Gas Laboratory at ETH Zurich.
To rule out the solar wind as the source of the observed gases, the research team used the Tom Dooley instrument to examine sub-millimeter glass particles from meteorites. They found significantly greater quantities of helium and neon than they had anticipated.
The Tom Dooley is the only instrument in the world with the sensitivity to detect such low helium and neon concentrations. It was utilized to find these noble gases in the grains of the Murchison meteorite, the oldest known solid substance at 7 billion years old.
In quest of the source
Finding individual meteorites within NASA’s massive collection of around 70,000 authorized meteorites is a huge breakthrough.
One of the foremost researchers in the field of extra-terrestrial noble gas geochemistry, Professor Henner Busemann of ETH Zurich, remarked, “I am strongly confident that there will be a race to study heavy noble gases and isotopes in meteoritic materials.”
He believes that soon, more difficult-to-identify noble gases like xenon and krypton will be the focus of research. In the lunar meteorites, they will also search for additional volatile substances like hydrogen or halogens.
It would be intriguing to learn how some of these noble gases survived the cruel and violent development of the moon, even if such gases are not essential for life, according to Buseman.
The creation of new models that more broadly illustrate how these highly volatile elements might survive planet formation in our solar system and beyond might be aided by such information, according to geochemists and geophysicists.