The Origin of the Moon is Linked to the Earth's Mantle, Scientist Says

A new study has found that the Moon received gases such as neon and helium from the Earth's mantle.

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, have discovered the first definitive evidence that the Moon inherited indigenous noble gases from Earth's mantle, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances.

The Moon has long been a source of attraction for humans. However, until the time of Galileo, scientists had not investigated the moon in depth.

For about five centuries, many theories related to the formation of the moon came into existence, but there could not be a consensus about any one theory. Now, a team of geochemists, cosmochemists and petrologists has shed new light on the theory behind the origin of the Moon.

The discovery is an essential piece of the puzzle in understanding how Earth and other celestial bodies, including the Moon, were formed.

This adds to already strong constraints on the famous "giant effect" theory, which proposes that the Moon was formed from a massive collision between Earth and another celestial body.

Meteorites from Moon to Antarctica

Patrizia will examine six samples of lunar meteorites from the Antarctic collection acquired from NASA as part of her doctoral research at ETH Zurich.

The meteorites were formed from basalt rock formed when magma rose from the Moon's interior and cooled quickly.  

After their formation, they were covered with additional basalt layers, which protected the stone from cosmic rays, especially the solar wind.

The cooling process resulted in the formation of lunar glass particles, among other minerals found in magma, read the research.

Will and his colleagues found that the glass particles retain the chemical fingerprints (isotopic signatures) of the lunar gases helium and neon.

In the absence of an atmosphere, asteroids continue to pelt stones on the surface of the Moon. Similar to the vast plains known as lunar mare, the meteorites were most likely produced by high-energy impacts from the middle layers of lava flows.

The rock fragments eventually made their way to Earth in the form of meteorites. Many of these meteorite samples are found in North African deserts or, in this case, the "cold deserts" of Antarctica, where they are easily discovered in landscapes, the research documents.

'Tom Dooley' - Inspiration

The Noble Gas Laboratory at ETH Zurich has a state-of-the-art noble gas mass spectrometer known as "Tom Dooley".

The research team was able to measure sub-millimetre glass particles from meteorites using the Tom Dooley instrument, ruling out the solar wind as the source of the gases. The helium and neon they discovered were much more abundant than expected.

Tom Dooley is so sensitive that it is the only instrument in the world capable of detecting such low helium and neon concentrations. It was used to detect these noble gases in the grains of the Murchison meteorite, which is 7 billion years old and the oldest known solid material.

In search of origin

Significant progress is being made in locating specific meteorites among NASA's vast collection of nearly 70,000 approved meteorites.

"I am strongly convinced that there will be a race to study the heavy noble gases and isotopes in meteorite material," said Professor Heiner Bussmann from ETH Zurich, one of the world's leading scientists in the field of extra-terrestrial noble gas geochemistry.

He predicted that researchers would soon be looking for noble gases such as xenon and krypton, which are more challenging to detect. They will also look for other volatile elements, such as hydrogen or halogens, in lunar meteorites.

"While such gases are not essential to life, it will be interesting to know how some of these noble gases survived the brutal and violent formation of the Moon," Bussman said.

"Such knowledge could help scientists in geochemistry and geophysics build new models that show more generally how such the most volatile elements can survive planet formation in our solar system and beyond".