Published: Sun, January 27, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Scientists suspect Apollo moon rock sample actually came from Earth

Scientists suspect Apollo moon rock sample actually came from Earth

Curtin University research into lunar rock samples retrieved by astronauts nearly 50 years ago has found one of the samples may be originally from Earth, thrown into space when an asteroid struck our planet billions of years ago.

The Apollo 14 crew spent more than 33 hours on the lunar surface in February 1971 and brought home almost 43kg of moon rocks.

According to the research, Big Bertha is a two-gram fragment made of quartz, feldspar, and zircon, all commonly found our planet.

But one mystery has persisted, revealed by rocks the Apollo astronauts brought back from the moon: Why are the moon and Earth so similar in their composition?

The team identified materials from Earth after they developed techniques for locating impact fragments in the lunar soil.

An global team of scientists led by NASA's Center for Lunar Science and Exploration (CLSE), found evidence that the impact jettisoned material through Earth's primitive atmosphere, into space, where it collided with the surface of the Moon (which was three times closer to Earth than it is now) about 4 billion years ago. This helped toss the rock back to the moon's surface.

If it had formed on the moon, it would have reflected different temperature conditions.

"It's quite a violent process and chemistry changes as a result of that".

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Nemchin is quick to point out that he and his team are not 100 percent certain that the sample originated on Earth although the evidence would suggest that.

It is conceivable that the example isn't of the terrestrial source, yet rather crystallized on the Moon, nonetheless, that would require conditions at no other time gathered from lunar examples. After the rock came to rest on the lunar surface, another impact 3.9bn years ago partially melted and buried it, scientists believe.

Now, 48 years on, experts are claiming that this relic was once part of Earth after it ended up on the moon after large comet or asteroid collided with the planet.

The findings appeared in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters. It would also be highly unusual for a lunar sample, the researchers said.

Day said his scenario seems more plausible compared to the "required chain of events of [breaking] felsite from the Earth at very high impact pressures so that it can escape Earth's orbit, and then incorporating it in a lunar impact melt rock". It's not hard to imagine, in the early years of our Solar System when large asteroids were everywhere, that one of them hit the Earth and sent debris flying into space.

This latest collision created the 1,115-foot-wide (340 meters) Cone Crater, whose environs Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell explored and sampled 47 years ago.

The sample was on loan from NASA to Curtin University, where it was investigated in cooperation with researchers from the Swedish Museum of Natural History, Australian National University and Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. "While the Hadean Earth is a reasonable source for the sample, the first find of this kind may be a challenge for the geologic community to digest". Researchers will have to verify this assumption by studying other lunar samples collected thus far.

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