A small grain of moon dust a big leap for moon exploration, NASA sent its newest team of astronauts to the Apollo 17 mission.
These astronauts have brought a portion of the moon back to Earth so that scientists can continue to study the lunar floor in their laboratory. Because we haven’t returned to the moon in nearly 50 years, every month samples are valuable. A small grain of moon dust a big leap for moon exploration.
We must make them researchers now and in the future. In a new study by Meteoritics & Planetary Science, scientists have discovered a new way to analyze the chemistry of the lunar floor with a grain of dust. Their technology can help us learn more about moon surface conditions and the formation of valuable resources such as water and helium.
This technique is called atomic probe tomography (APT) and is usually used from materials used by scientists to improve industrial processes such as steel making and nanowires. However, his ability to analyze small amounts of material makes him a good candidate for studying lunar samples.
The Apollo 17 sample contains 111 kilograms of moon and earth – a large scheme of things, not many, so researchers must use it wisely. Greer analysis only requires one grain, about the width of a man’s hair. A small grain of moon dust a big leap for moon exploration.
These small grains identify cosmic weathering products, pure iron, water, and helium, which arise from the interaction of the lunar floor with the cosmic environment.
Extracting this valuable resource from lunar soil can help future astronauts maintain their activity on the moon.
To examine small grains, Greer uses a focused beam of atoms to sculpt a very sharp small tip on its surface.
This clue is only a few hundred atoms wide – by comparison, a sheet of paper one hundred thousand atoms thick. “We can use the term nanocarpentry,” said Philip Heck. “Like carpenters forming trees, we make them into large minerals.”
After the sample was under nuclear investigation at Northwestern University, Greer covered it with a laser to break down atoms one by one. When the atoms fly away from the sample, they crash into the detector plate. Heavier elements such as iron need more time to reach the detector than lighter elements like hydrogen.
By measuring the time between the laser flame and the impact of the atom on the detector, the instrument can determine the type of atom at this position and its charge. Finally, Greer reconstructs the data in three dimensions, using color-coded dots for each atom and molecule to create nanoscale 3D maps of lunar dust.
By studying soil from the surface of the moon, scientists get an idea of an important force in our solar system: cosmic weathering. Space is a harsh environment with small meteorites, the flow of particles down from the sun, and radiation in the form of the sun and cosmic rays. While the Earth’s atmosphere protects us from the influence of the cosmic atmosphere, other objects such as the moon and asteroids have no atmosphere.
As a result, the subsurface of the moon has changed a lot because of cosmic weathering, which radically distinguishes it from the rocks that make up the rest of the moon. It’s like a chocolate ice cream cone: the outside doesn’t match the inside. With APT, scientists can find the difference between a rotten cosmic surface and moon dirt that cannot be explained in a way that other methods cannot.
If they understand the kind of process that makes this difference, they can more accurately predict what’s under the surface of the moon and asteroids that are too far away to bring to Earth.
Because Greer’s research uses nano-sized nozzles, original lunar dust is still available for future experiments. This means that a new generation of scientists from the same valuable sample can make new discoveries and predictions. “Fifty years ago, no one imagined that anyone would analyze samples using this technique and only use a small piece of wheat,” Heck said.
There may be thousands of beads like that in an astronaut’s glove, and this will be enough material for a larger study.
The results of this study persuaded NASA to fund the Northwest Field Museum and his team and colleagues from Purdue over the next three years to study different types of APT moon dust, determine the amount of water and investigate other aspects of weathering.