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NASA research says the Moon is more metallic than thought before

Topics Covered: Awareness in space.

NASA research says the Moon is more metallic than thought before

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft has found evidence that the Moon’s subsurface might have greater quantities of metals such as iron and titanium than thought before.

  • The metallic distribution was observed by the Miniature Radio Frequency (Mini-RF) instrument aboard the LRO.

The Mini-RF findings were backed by metal oxide maps from the LRO Wide-Angle Camera, Japan’s Kaguya mission and NASA’s Lunar Prospector spacecraft, which showed that larger craters with their increased dielectric material were also richer in metals.

How was it discovered?

LRO’s Mini-RF instrument was measuring an electrical property within lunar soil in crater floors in the Moon’s northern hemisphere.

The property, known as the dielectric constant, is the ratio of the electric permeability of a material to the electric permeability of a vacuum.

Dielectric properties are directly linked to the concentration of these metal minerals.

  • Level of this property increased as they surveyed larger craters, and kept rising in crater sizes up to 5 km in diameter. Beyond that size, the value of the dielectric constant leveled off.

The findings raise the possibility that the dielectric constant increased in larger craters because the meteors that created them dug up dust containing iron and titanium oxides from beneath the Moon’s surface.

How was moon created?

The most popular theory about the Moon’s creation is that a Mars-sized protoplanet collided with newly formed Earth around 4.5 billion years ago, breaking off a piece of our planet that went on to become its satellite.

  • The hypothesis is also backed by substantial evidence, such as the close resemblance between the Moon’s bulk chemical composition with that of Earth.

Implications of latest findings:

It is known that Earth’s crust has lesser amounts of iron oxide than the Moon– a finding that scientists have been trying to explain.

  • Now, the new discovery of even greater quantities of metal on the Moon makes their job even more difficult. It really raises the question of what this means for our previous formation hypotheses.

A possible reason could be that the Moon was created from a material much deeper beneath Earth’s surface than was believed before, or that the newly found metal presence could be the result of molten lunar surface cooling down gradually.

About Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO):

It is a NASA mission to the moon within the Lunar Precursor and Robotic Program (LPRP) in preparation for future manned missions to the moon and beyond (Mars).

LRO is the first mission of NASA’s `New Vision for Space Exploration’.

 The objectives of LRO are to:

  1. Identify potential lunar resources.
  2. Gather detailed maps of the lunar surface.
  3. Collect data on the moon’s radiation levels.
  4. Study the moons polar regions for resources that could be used in future manned missions or robotic sample return missions.


Prelims Link:

  1. Objectives of LRO.
  2. Overview of NASA’s `New Vision for Space Exploration’.
  3. Moon formation hypothesis.
  4. Composition of earth’s crust.
  5. What is dielectric constant?
  6. Kaguya mission is related to?

Mains Link:

Write a note on Chandrayaan 2 mission.

Sources: Indian Express.