New study of lunar meteorite sources at Birkbeck, University of London

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A research team in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Birkbeck, University of London, has been awarded funding by the Science and Technology Facilities Council to investigate the source localities of lunar meteorites, which will provide a valuable contribution to our knowledge of lunar geological evolution.

Professor Ian Crawford

This project will enable us to build up the UK lunar science community, ensuring that we remain active in this expanding field, as well as providing an exciting opportunity to add valuable knowledge to our understanding of lunar geological evolution.

A research team in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Birkbeck, University of London has been awarded funding by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to investigate the source localities of lunar meteorites, which will provide a valuable contribution to our knowledge of lunar geological evolution.

The Apollo and Luna missions, flown during the 1960s and 1970s, retrieved 382kg of lunar rock and soil samples from a total of nine landing sites. All of these sites were within a small area on the near-side of the Moon. In order for planetary scientists to fully understand the evolution of the Moon they need to study more remote areas of the Moon’s surface, for which they rely on a combination of orbital remote-sensing measurements and geochemical analyses of meteorites that have been randomly blasted off the lunar surface.

The problem facing scientists is that they do not know which region of the Moon the 160 identified lunar meteorites come from, and therefore do not know their geological context. Identifying where these meteorites originated from would enable scientists to use the ages, petrography and compositions of the meteorites (which are obtained through laboratory analyses) to make inferences about the geological evolution of specific regions of the moon. These inferences could not be made using remote-sensing alone.

The funding from STFC will cover a PhD studentship. The student will conduct laboratory analyses of previously unstudied lunar meteorites, obtained from NASA’s Meteorite Working Group. They will also carry out a literature survey of the composition of known lunar meteorites. Surface composition data-sets obtained through remote sensing can then be compared with the compositional data obtained through laboratory testing to enable the team to identify the source region of the meteorites. Where the possible source region can be restrained to a very specific area the team will then use high-resolution surface imagery to see whether they can identify any recently formed craters which could plausibly have been the launch site for the meteorites.

Professor Ian Crawford, Principal Investigator on the study, said: “Lunar science is currently undergoing something of a renaissance, with no less than five spacecraft sent to the Moon by three different countries within the last five years. This project will enable us to build up the UK lunar science community, ensuring that we remain active in this expanding field, as well as providing an exciting opportunity to add valuable knowledge to our understanding of lunar geological evolution.

“The surface of the moon is mostly older than 3 billion years old, with some areas extending almost all the way back to the origin of the Moon 4.5 billion years ago. An understanding of the early geological evolution of a rocky planet will improve our understanding of the early Solar System as a whole.”

The funding will run for three years from 1 April 2013.

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Bryony Merritt
Birkbeck, University of London
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