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[i]In the lab, the Moon rocks look nondescript -- dark gray basalt, a whitish mineral called anorthosite and mixtures of the two with crystals thrown in. Yet nearly 40 years after the Apollo astronauts brought the first rocks back to Earth, these pieces of the Moon are still providing scientists with new secrets from another world.
"We call this one the 'genesis' rock, because it was formed close to the time the Moon solidified about 4.5 billion years ago," said Carlton C. Allen, pointing to a light-colored stone about the size and shape of a large artist's eraser, resting inside a glove box filled with inert nitrogen gas.
"We know the Big Bang happened about 14.5 billion years ago," Mr. Allen said, "and this rock is a third that old. You will never see a solid piece of stuff in our solar system that is any older."
Mr. Allen is the astromaterials curator at the Johnson Space Center, home of the Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility, a secure repository opened in 1979 to house 842 pounds of Moon rocks and soil collected by astronauts in six visits.
The rocks on the lunar surface, lying virtually unchanged in a weatherless vacuum since their formation, offer opportunities to investigate the origin and evolution of the solar system available nowhere else, and the study deepens with each new generation of scientists and scientific instruments.
Each year an independent peer review panel evaluates new research proposals, and curators mail out about 400 lunar samples to 40 to 50 scientists worldwide. Almost all are less than one gram in size. "We don't hand them out, we only loan them," Mr. Allen said. "We're not planning to run out any time soon."[/i]
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