Ancient Meteorite Unearths Surprising Lunar Water Secrets

By Consultants Review Team Thursday, 18 January 2024

A recent study published in Nature Astronomy has revealed a groundbreaking discovery that challenges long-standing assumptions about the Moon's historical water content. The research, conducted by Tara Hayden from Western University, suggests that the lunar crust, dating back over 4 billion years, contained significantly more water than previously believed.

In this examination of the early lunar crust, Hayden identified the presence of apatite, the most common phosphate mineral, for the first time. This unexpected finding indicates that the Moon's formative years were marked by a much richer water environment than scientists had previously hypothesized.

Tara Hayden, now a cosmochemist at Western's Department of Earth Sciences, expressed excitement about the discovery of apatite in the Moon's early crust. She stated, "It allows us to piece together a previously unknown stage of lunar history, revealing that the early Moon was richer in water than we expected."

The prevailing belief in the Moon's arid nature stemmed from initial assessments of samples collected during the Apollo missions. However, in 2008, Alberto Saal and colleagues found significant amounts of water in glass beads from the Apollo collection, prompting a re-evaluation of lunar water content.

The recent identification of apatite, a mineral that holds volatile elements, in ancient ferroan anorthosites and lunar meteorites further enhances our understanding of the Moon's evolution. These anorthosites, dating between 4.5 and 4.3 billion years, represent the Moon's primordial crust and are believed to have crystallized directly from the Lunar Magma Ocean.

The absence of apatite in certain lunar materials, such as glass beads, led to a reevaluation of the Moon's presumed dryness. Hayden highlighted the significance of lunar meteorites in providing new insights beyond the Apollo mission samples. With the upcoming Artemis missions poised to bring back more lunar samples, scientists are optimistic about uncovering additional secrets hidden within the Moon.

Mahesh Anand, professor of planetary science and exploration at The Open University, emphasized the importance of understanding the history of water in the earliest lunar crust for gaining insights into the origin of water in the Solar System. As anticipation builds for the Artemis missions, Tara Hayden's discovery of apatite in the Moon's early crust sets the stage for potential breakthroughs in our understanding of the Moon's surface and its resources. The study signifies a crucial step in unraveling the mysteries of the Moon's watery past.

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