Saturday, March 25, 2023

Fragments of untouched Moon kept in storage for 50 years are finally being studied

When the Apollo 15 and 17 missions returned to Earth with fragments of the Moon in 1971 and 1972, some samples were deliberately set aside for the future.

Flash forward half a century and these specimens are finally being studied.

In 2019, soon after the announcement of an upcoming Artemis mission to the Moon, nine teams of researchers were selected to analyze the untouched rocks and soils brought back by the Apollo missions.

Some vacuum-sealed samples have never been uncovered on Earth before. Others have been carefully kept in a freezer since their arrival over fifty years ago.

It has taken years to transport the precious cargo from Texas to NASA laboratories across the country.

A special facility to hold lunar samples had to be built at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, and it took four years to set up.

Only now can researchers finally begin to analyze long-held treasures from the Apollo missions in preparation for the Artemis mission.

“When you think about how these samples came from other worlds, how far they’ve traveled and the history they’ve preserved in the Solar System, it always blows my mind,” said planetary scientist Natalie Curran. Say, those who are studying lunar samples. in Goddard.

Some of the lunar fragments that Koran is analyzing were frozen upon arrival on Earth in 1972, and need to be kept in precise conditions.

To handle the precious samples, researchers must enter a walk-in freezer kept at minus 20 °C (4 °F) and stick their arms into a nitrogen-purified glove box. Only when their hands are covered with thick rubber gloves can they touch the lunar rocks.

“There’s a lot of logistics and a lot of infrastructure involved in everything we do, but adding cold makes it a lot harder,” says astromaterial researcher Ryan Ziegler, who helped curate the lab’s handling methods. Of.

“This is an important lesson to be learned for Artemis, because being able to process samples in the cold will be far more important for the Artemis mission than for Apollo. This work teaches us some lessons and serves as a good feed forward for Artemis.” is.”

Apollo 17 SampleThe frozen Apollo 17 sample is being handled inside a nitrogen-purified glove box. (NASA/Robert Markowitz)

Curran is the principal investigator of Goddard’s Mid-Atlantic Noble Gas Research Lab, which is treating lunar samples as time capsules.

Using noble gases, the team is trying to measure how long fragments from the Moon’s surface have been exposed to cosmic rays. That knowledge can help reveal how conditions on the Moon have changed over time.

“Cosmic rays can be harmful to organic materials that may be in a sample, so understanding the duration helps determine the effects on organic matter,” explains Curran.

Another team of researchers at Goddard’s Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory is studying whether lunar samples contain volatile organic compounds and in what concentrations.

Studies in the early 1970s found that some lunar rocks contain amino acids, which are important building blocks of life on Earth. But since those days, our understanding of technology and astrology has improved a lot.

“We think that some of the amino acids in lunar soil may be composed of precursor molecules, which are smaller, more volatile compounds such as formaldehyde or hydrogen cyanide,” explains Jamie Elsila, a researcher at the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory.

“Our research goal is to identify and quantify these small organic volatile compounds, as well as any amino acids, and use the data to understand the prebiotic organic chemistry of the Moon.”

NASA researchers will also compare the differences between frozen lunar samples and non-frozen samples to see which conservation method proved to be better in the long run.

The findings will ultimately inform future operations of lunar samples, which will be brought back via the Artemis mission.

Some samples will undoubtedly be set aside for the future, when better technology can help us see something we haven’t noticed before.

“It’s great to think about all the work that went into collecting samples on the Moon and then all the forethought and care to preserve them in order to be able to analyze at this time,” says Elsila.

More information about the Apollo Next Generation Sample Analysis Program can be found here.


Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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