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Author Topic:   Opening sealed Apollo moon rock samples
Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-12-2019 06:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
collectSPACE
NASA to break seal on Apollo moon rock samples for scientific study

NASA is about to open one of its last remaining lunar samples that was sealed by Apollo astronauts while on the moon nearly 50 years ago.

The space agency on Monday (March 11) announced that it has selected nine science teams to study the still-pristine moon material using techniques that were not available when the samples were collected in the early 1970s.

Space Cadet Carl
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posted 03-14-2019 10:16 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Space Cadet Carl   Click Here to Email Space Cadet Carl     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Love to hear about scientists keeping samples sealed for future generations and future technology. It's a bit like a seed bank that has fruit and vegetable seeds from a century ago locked up for future analysis and comparison.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 11-06-2019 03:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
collectSPACE
NASA opens untouched Apollo moon rock sample for first time in 40 years

NASA has unsealed one of its last-remaining untouched samples of Apollo moon rock to prepare for the return of new material by future lunar missions.

Scientists at Johnson Space Center's Lunar Curation Laboratory in Houston opened the Apollo 17-recovered sample on Tuesday (Nov. 5). The 1.5-inch-wide (4-centimeter) tube holding the small stash of moon rocks and dust was sealed by astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt during the second of their three moonwalks on Dec. 12, 1972.

ejectr
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posted 11-08-2019 03:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ejectr   Click Here to Email ejectr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Talk about a time capsule....!

oly
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posted 11-08-2019 08:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for oly   Click Here to Email oly     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A tube sealed for 50 years containing samples that are billions of years old, brings back memories of Bock the Rock.

SpaceAholic
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posted 12-23-2021 09:24 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Smithsonian Magazine: Why Scientists Waited 50 Years to Study This Moon Dust
Soon after its collection, the sample was sealed inside a vacuum-tight container while Cernan was still on the moon. Upon the canister's arrival to Earth, it was placed inside another vacuum chamber where it sat untouched for nearly 50 years. The sample, known as the 73001 Apollo sample container, is now set to be opened by researchers using a device designed by the European Space Agency (ESA). The effort is the first time the ESA will examine samples returned from the moon.

Captain Apollo
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posted 12-23-2021 09:46 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Captain Apollo   Click Here to Email Captain Apollo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I wish they'd invited Jack Schmitt to open it.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 12-23-2021 10:40 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
European Space Agency (ESA) release
Opening a 50-year-old Christmas present from the Moon

A pretty special gift unwrapping will soon take place – a piercing tool built by ESA will open a Moon soil container from Apollo 17 that has gone untouched for nearly 50 years. The opening will allow the extraction of precious lunar gases which may have been preserved in the sample.

Above: A piercing tool built by ESA is set to open a Moon soil container from Apollo 17 that has gone untouched for nearly 50 years.

Analysis of the gaseous volatiles will allow scientists to better understand the geology of the Moon and help engineers to design better sampling tools and techniques for future missions to the Moon or even Mars.

The gas extraction experiment is part of the larger Apollo Next-Generation Sample Analysis (ANGSA) programme that coordinates the analysis of pristine Moon samples from the Apollo era. And for the first time ever, ESA is involved in the opening of soil returned from the Moon.

"The opening and analyses of these samples now, with the technical advancements achieved since the Apollo era, can enable new scientific discoveries on the Moon. This can also inspire and inform a new generation of explorers," says Francesca McDonald, science and project lead of ESA's contribution to ANGSA.

Francesca and colleague Timon Schild travelled last month to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, USA, to deliver the piercing tool and train the lunar sample curation team on how to operate it.

"It is a privilege to be able to work amongst the treasure trove of ancient Moon samples that have witnessed the history of our Solar System, and be a part of a programme that can help to reveal their secrets," adds Francesca.

The tool now stands-by to be used on the Apollo sample container in the coming weeks.

Lunar origins

Astronaut Gene Cernan collected the sample on the Moon in 1972 from a landslip deposit that cascaded down into the Taurus-Littrow Valley. The Apollo 17 astronaut hammered a 70 cm long cylindrical tube into the surface to extract a core sample of the lunar soil.

The lower half of this core sample was sealed in a vacuum tight container on the lunar surface. Back on Earth, the container was put in an additional vacuum chamber where it has sat undisturbed until this day.

Above: Sample 73002, the upper section of a double drive tube core sample extracted from Apollo 17 landing site (paired with lower section 73001 which still remains sealed in a special vacuume container called a CSVC).

Scientists believe that there may be loosely bound gases, such as hydrogen, helium and noble gases still trapped in the sample container.

"The piercing tool is a solution for accessing the gases. We are eager to learn how well the vacuum container preserved the sample and the fragile gases," says Francesca.

The international effort can help develop new sample return containers and protocols, particularly for water-ice rich samples from lunar polar locations and future martian samples.

Operations of a lunar can opener

ESA's piercing tool, jokingly called the "Apollo can opener" amongst the team, can puncture the Moon sample vacuum container to aid capturing the trapped gases as they escape.

The fragile gases are then collected in dedicated canisters thanks to an extraction manifold designed by a partner team at Washington University in Saint-Louis, USA.

Above: A piercing tool built by ESA is set to open a Moon soil container from Apollo 17 that has gone untouched for nearly 50 years.

The gas sample canisters will be sent to specialised laboratories around the world, including Europe, for more detailed studies.

"Each gas component that is analysed can help to tell a different part of the story about the origin and evolution of volatiles on the Moon and within the early Solar System," says Francesca.

A unique innovation and design challenge

ESA developed the "Apollo can opener" over a period of about 16 months in a truly international effort. Scientific and technical experts from six different teams and seven nationalities across two ESA sites worked with the ANGSA consortium, with support from the laboratory facilities at ESTEC, ESA's main technology centre.

"This piercing tool is a one-of-a-kind system built for the sole purpose of puncturing the so-called 73001 Apollo sample container," says Timon Schild, who led the development at ESA's Spaceship EAC team.

The work with lunar material imposed a lot of stringent rules for material choices, cleanliness and operating procedures. On top of that, all the information came from 50-year-old documents.

"Some of the characteristics of the sample container were simply unknown. All in all, building the tool was a challenge, but also extremely inspiring and a rewarding project to work on," adds Timon.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-06-2022 08:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
NASA Studies 'New' 50-Year-Old Lunar Sample to Prep for Return to Moon

People say good things come to those who wait. NASA thinks 50 years is the right amount of time as it begins tapping into one of the last unopened, Apollo-era lunar samples to learn more about the Moon and prepare for a return to its surface.

The sample is being opened at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston by the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Division (ARES), which safeguards, studies, and shares NASA's collection of extraterrestrial samples. This work is being led by the Apollo Next Generation Sample Analysis Program (ANGSA), a science team who aim to learn more about the sample and the lunar surface in advance of the upcoming Artemis missions to the Moon's South Pole.

"Understanding the geologic history and evolution of the Moon samples at the Apollo landing sites will help us prepare for the types of samples that may be encountered during Artemis," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "Artemis aims to bring back cold and sealed samples from near the lunar South Pole. This is an exciting learning opportunity to understand the tools needed for collecting and transporting these samples, for analyzing them, and for storing them on Earth for future generations of scientists."

When Apollo astronauts returned these samples around 50 years ago, NASA had the foresight to keep some of them unopened and pristine.

Above: Front from left, Drs. Ryan Zeigler, Rita Parai, Francesca McDonald, Chip Shearer and back left from left, Drs. Zach Sharp from University of New Mexico and Francis McCubbin, Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Division (ARES) astromaterials curator look on in excitement as gas is extracted into the manifold after the inner tube was pierced. (NASA/James Blair)

"The agency knew science and technology would evolve and allow scientists to study the material in new ways to address new questions in the future," said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. "The ANGSA initiative was designed to examine these specially stored and sealed samples."

The ANGSA 73001 sample is part of an Apollo 17 drive tube sample collected by astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison "Jack" Schmitt in December of 1972. The astronauts hammered a pair of connected 1.5-by-14-inch tubes into the lunar surface to collect segments of rocks and soil from a landslide deposit in the Moon's Taurus–Littrow Valley. The astronauts then individually sealed one drive tube under vacuum on the Moon before bringing them back to Earth; only two drive tubes were vacuum sealed on the Moon in this way, and this is the first to be opened. The other half of this drive tube, 73002, was returned in a normal (unsealed) container. The sealed tube has been carefully stored in a protective outer vacuum tube and in an atmosphere-controlled environment at Johnson ever since. The unsealed segment was opened in 2019 and revealed an interesting array of grains and smaller objects, known as rocklets, that lunar geologists were eager to study.

Now, scientists are focusing attention on the sealed, lower segment of the core. The temperature at the bottom of the core was incredibly cold when it was collected, which means that volatiles (substances that evaporate at normal temperatures, like water ice and carbon dioxide) might have been present. They are particularly interested in the volatiles in these samples from the equatorial regions of the Moon, because they will allow future scientists studying the Artemis samples to better understand where and what volatiles might be present in those samples.

Above: From left, Dr. Juliane Gross, Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Division (ARES) deputy Apollo curator, alongside Drs. Alex Meshik, and Olga Pravdivtseva, from Washington University in St. Louis, begin a gas extraction process using the manifold. (NASA/James Blair)

The amount of gas expected to be present in this sealed Apollo sample is likely very low. If scientists can carefully extract these gases, they can be analyzed and identified using modern mass spectrometry technology. This technology, which has evolved to levels of extreme sensitivity in recent years, can precisely determine the mass of unknown molecules and use that data to precisely identify them. This not only makes for improved measurements, but also means the collected gas can be divided into smaller portions and shared with more researchers conducting different kinds of lunar science.

NASA's Ryan Zeigler, the Apollo sample curator, is overseeing the process of extracting the gas and rock. It's also Zeigler's job to properly prepare, catalog, and share the sample with others for research.

"A lot of people are getting excited," said Zeigler. "University of New Mexico's Chip Shearer proposed the project over a decade ago, and for the past three years, we've had two great teams developing the unique equipment to make it possible."

Above: From left, Dr. Juliane Gross, Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Division (ARES) deputy Apollo curator, and Dr. Francesca McDonald, from ESA, take precise measurements from the piercing device prior to using the newly developed tool. (NASA/James Blair)

The device being used to extract and collect the gas, called a manifold, was developed by Drs. Alex Meshik, Olga Pravdivtseva, and Rita Parai from Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Francesca McDonald from the European Space Agency led a group in building the special tool to carefully pierce the container holding the lunar sample without letting any gas escape. Together, they've created and rigorously tested a one-of-a-kind system to collect the extremely precious material – gas and solid – that is sealed inside the containers.

On, Feb. 11, the team began the careful, months-long process to remove the sample by first opening the outer protective tube and capturing any gas inside. Zeigler and his team knew what gases should be present inside the outer container and found everything was as expected. The tube seemed to contain no lunar gas, indicating the seal on the inner sample tube was still likely intact. On Feb. 23, the team began the next step: a multi-week process of piercing the inner container and slowly gathering any lunar gases that are hopefully still inside.

After the gas extraction process is finished, the ARES team will prepare to carefully remove the soil and rocks from their container, likely later this spring.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-22-2022 04:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA Science Live video:
When Apollo astronauts began bringing samples from the Moon to Earth over 50 years ago, NASA chose to keep some samples unopened and untouched for future scientists to study. Now, NASA has opened the final pristine core sample of the Moon from the Apollo 17 mission to be studied in state-of-the-art laboratories with the most up-to-date technologies.

Have questions? Join NASA experts Thursday, March 24, 2022 at 3:00pm ET for an inside look at how decades-old Moon samples are opened and what we hope to learn.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 05-04-2022 08:01 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
NASA Goddard Scientists Begin Studying 50-year-old Frozen Apollo 17 Samples

Scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, recently received samples of the lunar surface that have been curated in a freezer at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston since Apollo 17 astronauts returned them to Earth in December 1972.

This research is part of the Apollo Next Generation Sample Analysis Program, or ANGSA, an effort to study the samples returned from the Apollo Program in advance of the upcoming Artemis missions to the Moon's South Pole.

However, the process of getting the samples from Johnson to researchers at Goddard – as well as researchers at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley, the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., and the University of Arizona, Tucson – wasn't simple. It's a process that began more than four years ago when NASA's Julie Mitchell and her Artemis curation team at Johnson began designing and retrofitting a facility to process the frozen Apollo 17 samples. This was a new approach and scientists were excited to employ a technique that could be applied to future lunar missions.

"We started this in early 2018 and there's been a lot of technical challenges that we've had to overcome to get to this point," said Mitchell. "This was seen as a practice run for preparing a facility for future cold sample processing."

"By doing this work we're not just facilitating Artemis exploration, but we're facilitating future sample return and human exploration into the rest of the solar system," Mitchell added. "I feel very privileged to contribute in this small way by developing the capabilities for us to collect these materials, bring them home safely, and curate them for the long term."

Above: A frozen Apollo 17 sample being processed inside a nitrogen-purged glove box at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The sample is one of many being studied as part of the ANGSA program. (NASA/Robert Markowitz)

Once the facility was ready, Ryan Zeigler, Apollo sample curator in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) Division at Johnson, and his team had to adapt to the unique conditions designed by Mitchell's team to keep the samples frozen during processing, which included decreased visibility due to frost and challenges manipulating the samples while working with thick gloves in a nitrogen-purged glove box, all of which took place inside a walk-in freezer maintained at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 C). Being able to keep samples frozen will be important for Artemis as astronauts potentially return ice samples from the Moon's South Pole.

"Everything we do involves a lot of logistics and a lot of infrastructure, but adding the cold makes it a lot harder," said Zeigler. "It's an important learning lesson for Artemis, as being able to process samples in the cold will be even more important for the Artemis mission than it is for Apollo. This work gives us some lessons learned and a good feed forward for Artemis."

Once the frozen samples were processed and subdivided at Johnson by lunar sample processor Jeremy Kent, the samples were then express shipped in a cooler with dry ice, immediately opened at Goddard, and stored in a secure freezer. For the scientists now working with the treasures, there's something special about receiving samples that haven't been investigated in nearly five decades.

Jamie Elsila, a research scientist in the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory at Goddard, is focusing on the study of small, volatile organic compounds for her research and analysis of the sample. Previous research showed that some lunar samples contain amino acids, which are essential to life on Earth. Her team wants to understand their origin and distribution in the solar system.

"We think some of the amino acids in the lunar soils may have formed from precursor molecules, which are smaller, more volatile compounds such as formaldehyde or hydrogen cyanide," said Elsila. "Our research goal is to identify and quantify these small organic volatile compounds, as well as any amino acids, and to use the data to understand the prebiotic organic chemistry of the Moon."

Above: Three ARES scientists process frozen Apollo 17 samples inside a walk-in freezer maintained at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 C). Beneath the laboratory gown, they don parkas, gloves, and hats to keep warm. (NASA/Robert Markowitz)

Natalie Curran, principal investigator for the Mid Atlantic Noble Gas Research Lab at Goddard, focuses on understanding the history that the samples may have experienced during their lifetime on the Moon. The surface of the Moon is a harsh environment and unlike the Earth, it doesn't have an atmosphere to protect it from exposure to space.

"Our work allows us to use noble gases, such as argon, helium, neon, and xenon, to measure the duration a sample has been exposed to cosmic rays, and this can help us understand the history of that sample," said Curran. "Cosmic rays can be damaging to organic material that may be in a sample, so understanding the duration helps to determine the effects that exposure has had on the organic."

Both Elsila and Curran are in possession of frozen and non-frozen lunar samples. When these samples were brought to Earth, a portion was stored at room temperature and another portion was frozen, allowing for comparison between the two groups. Scientists will analyze both sets of samples to ascertain if there are differences in the organic content. Understanding any variations caused by the different curation methods might inform future decisions about how to store samples returned by Artemis astronauts, part of what the ARES team at Johnson will be doing.

For Elsila, "it's very cool to think about all the work that went into collecting the samples on the Moon and then all the forethought and care that went into preserving them for us to be able to analyze at this time," she noted.

As for Curran, "when you think of how these samples have come from another world, how far they have travelled and the solar system history they have preserved inside of them, it always blows my mind," she added.

Space Cadet Carl
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posted 05-04-2022 10:57 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Space Cadet Carl   Click Here to Email Space Cadet Carl     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Gene Cernan would have been so proud of how his collected samples are being analyzed in preparing the Artemis team for their upcoming work. It would also be great if they let Harrison Schmitt join them for a day in the laboratory!

lspooz
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posted 05-04-2022 03:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for lspooz   Click Here to Email lspooz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As a Harvard PhD geologist who collected some of these samples, Schmitt should be there as long as he's willing... great PR and just seems proper.

Dirk
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posted 05-07-2022 05:40 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dirk   Click Here to Email Dirk     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Why they waited so long?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 05-07-2022 05:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA knew that the technology used to study the lunar samples would improve over time and so certain samples were set aside purposely to wait for the geological tools to advance.

Now that NASA is preparing to return to the moon, the agency's scientists felt it was time to use the now modern technology to analyze the pristine samples.

Blackarrow
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posted 05-08-2022 11:49 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Probably the best example of this is the 2008 analysis of Apollo 15 and Apollo 17 volcanic glass beads at Brown University. Previous analyses of moon samples had deduced that the Moon was bone-dry. Alberto Saal's team used newly-developed analytical tools to identify significant quantities of water in those glass beads, on a par with the water-content of lava extruded from the bed of the Atlantic Ocean.

MCroft04
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posted 05-09-2022 07:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for MCroft04   Click Here to Email MCroft04     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
So if the moon was formed by a giant impact, how did the water — a volatile — survive? It should have been vaporized by the impact.

Blackarrow
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posted 05-09-2022 10:32 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Exactly! One of the key arguments used in support of the "Giant Impact Hypothesis" was that such a violent impact would inevitably have vaporized the material which later coalesced into what we now call the Moon, and that would have boiled off the volatiles, neatly explaining the apparent lack of water in the Apollo samples. The later finding of significant quantities of water in those Apollo volcanic glass beads raised some awkward questions for advocates of the G.I.H.

In the words of the late Erik Hauri, one of the key researchers who sampled those tiny drops of water: "That's a really, really difficult knot to untie."

I'm not a geologist and I'm not going to go into any details about this fascinating subject. Suffice it to say that there are numerous scientific papers on the subject between 2008 and the present day. Several alternatives to the G.I.H. have been suggested (including a head-on collision between Earth and an asteroid; and multiple smaller impacts by water-bearing asteroids). Our understanding of the issues continues to evolve.

The late Professor Karl Popper famously argued that scientific knowledge advances best not by constantly reinforcing existing hypotheses but by disproving them.

Headshot
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posted 05-09-2022 11:29 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Do not forget that the Moon formed an estimated 4.5 billion years ago, plenty of time for water to accumulate on it.

Two possible mechanism are that: (1) water ice may have been deposited by impacting comets or other errant water-bearing solar system objects, and (2) water is probably still being produced (albeit in minuscule quantities) by the reaction of oxygen-rich lunar rocks, and hydrogen from solar wind, leaving traces of water everywhere on the Moon, but especially in cold, permanently-shadowed craters at either pole.

Blackarrow
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posted 05-09-2022 06:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
So noted, but I did say I wasn't intending to go into detail about this: not because I don't want to, but because I think it's rather too esoteric for this thread. To be clear: I'm not trying to argue that the Giant Impact Hypothesis is wrong. It might be, or it might not be. I'm simply pointing out that it used to be talked about as if it were the only show in town. Since 2008 it has serious questions to answer. I recommend anyone who is interested in the subject to search online for the numerous scientific papers and more approachable publications that detail the studies and suggestions that have arisen in the past 14 years.

Of course, it might be easier (finally) to explain the origin of the Moon if we could get hold of a lot of new samples of lunar rock, dust, volcanic glass and permanently-shadowed ice in the near future!

MCroft04
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posted 05-09-2022 10:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MCroft04   Click Here to Email MCroft04     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The rocks holding that water are 3 billion years old. So you cannot explain it by bringing water to the moon in the interim.

Planetary geologists who support the impact hypothesis — not a theory — have tried to model a glancing blow that would have sucked the volatiles (including the water) into space and then back into the coalescing mess. The problem is that they have not been able to find a solution (model) that accomplishes what they want to believe.

I'm a geologist — but not a planetary geologist — but know enough that the honorable Jack Schmitt is suspicious of this hypothesis. Me too!

Space Cadet Carl
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posted 05-10-2022 07:15 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Space Cadet Carl   Click Here to Email Space Cadet Carl     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Great discussion here... and I think we pretty much answered the question of why we held back Apollo samples for scientists to analyze 50 years in the future, anticipating their whole new mindset and more advanced tools.

Blackarrow
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posted 05-10-2022 12:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by MCroft04:
...the honorable Jack Schmitt is suspicious of this hypothesis.
At a (slightly belated) 30th anniversary celebration of Apollo 17, held at the National Air and Space Museum in March 2003, Dr Schmitt described himself as "...one of a small minority who consider [the Giant Impact Hypothesis] to be highly unlikely." I suspect that the results of those tests on Apollo volcanic glass samples brought a smile to his face.

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