Subtly shaded map of moon reveals titanium treasure troves

Oct 07, 2011
LROC WAC mosaic showing boundary between Mare Serenitatis and Mare Tranquillitatis. The relative blue colour of the Tranquillitatis mare is due to higher abundances of the titanium bearing mineral ilmenite. Enhanced colour formed as 689 nm filter image in red, 415 nm in green, and 321 nm in blue [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

( -- A map of the Moon combining observations in visible and ultraviolet wavelengths shows a treasure trove of areas rich in Titanium ores. Not only is Titanium a valuable mineral, it is key to helping scientists unravel the mysteries of the Moon’s interior.  Mark Robinson and Brett Denevi will be presenting the results from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission today at the joint meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress and the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences.

“Looking up at the , its surface appears painted with shades of grey – at least to the human eye. But with the right instruments, the Moon can appear colourful,” said Robinson, of Arizona State University. “The maria appear reddish in some places and blue in others.  Although subtle, these colour variations tell us important things about the chemistry and evolution of the lunar surface.  They indicate the titanium and iron abundance, as well as the maturity of a lunar soil.”

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) Wide Angle Camera (WAC) is imaging the surface in seven different wavelengths at a resolution of between 100 and 400 metres per pixel. Specific minerals reflect or absorb strongly certain parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, so the wavelengths detected by LROC WAC help scientists better understand the chemical composition of the lunar surface.

Robinson and his team previously developed a technique using Hubble Space Telescope images to map titanium abundances around a small area centred on the Apollo 17 landing site. Samples around the site spanned a broad range of titanium levels.  By comparing the Apollo data from the ground with the Hubble images, the team found that the titanium levels corresponded to the ratio of ultraviolet to visible light reflected by the lunar soils.

“Our challenge was to find out whether the technique would work across broad areas, or whether there was something special about the Apollo 17 area,” said Robinson.

Robinson’s team constructed a mosaic from around 4000 LRO WAC images collected over one month. Using the technique they had developed with the Hubble imagery, they used the WAC ratio of the brightness in the ultraviolet to visible light to deduce titanium abundance, backed up by surface samples gathered by Apollo and Luna missions.

The highest titanium abundances on Earth are around xx percent. The new map shows that in the mare titanium abundances range from about one percent to a little more than ten percent. In the highlands, everywhere TiO2 is less than one percent. The new titanium values match those measured in the ground samples to about one percent.

“We still don’t really understand why we find much higher abundances of titanium on the Moon compared to similar types of rocks on Earth.  What the lunar titanium-richness does tell us is that the interior of the Moon had less oxygen when it was formed, knowledge that geochemists value for understanding the evolution of the Moon,” said Robinson.

Lunar titanium is mostly found in the mineral ilmenite, a compound containing iron, titanium and oxygen. Future miners living and working on the Moon could break down ilmenite to liberate these elements.  In addition, Apollo data shows that titanium-rich minerals are more efficient at retaining particles from the solar wind, such as helium and hydrogen. These gases would also provide a vital resource for future human inhabitants of lunar colonies.

“The new map is a valuable tool for lunar exploration planning. Astronauts will want to visit places with both high scientific value and a high potential for resources that can be used to support exploration activities. Areas with high provide both – a pathway to understanding the interior of the Moon and potential mining resources,” said Denevi, from John Hopkins University.

The new maps also shed light on how space weather changes the lunar surface. Over time, the lunar surface materials are altered by the impact of charged particles from the solar wind and high-velocity micrometeorite impacts. Together these processes work to pulverize rock into a fine powder and alter the surface’s chemical composition and hence its colour.  Recently exposed rocks, such as the rays that are thrown out around impact craters, appear bluer and have higher reflectance than more mature soil. Over time this ‘young’ material darkens and reddens, disappearing into the background after about 500 million years.

“One of the exciting discoveries we’ve made is that the effects of weathering show up much more quickly in ultraviolet than in visible or infrared wavelengths.  In the LROC ultraviolet mosaics, even craters that we thought were very young appear relatively mature. Only small, very recently formed craters show up as fresh regolith exposed on the surface,” said Robinson.

The mosaics have also given important clues to why lunar swirls – sinuous features associated with magnetic fields in the lunar crust – are highly reflective. The new data suggest that when a magnetic field is present, it deflects the charged solar wind, slowing the maturation process and resulting in the bright swirl. The rest of the Moon’s surface, which does not benefit from the protective shield of a magnetic field, is more rapidly weathered by the solar wind. This result may suggest that bombardment by charged particles may be more important than micrometeorites in weathering the Moon’s surface.

Explore further: Cosmic rays threaten future deep-space astronaut missions

Related Stories

Looking at the volatile side of the Moon

Jun 01, 2011

Four decades after the first Moon landing, our only natural satellite remains a fascinating enigma. Specialists from Europe and the US have been looking at ESA’s proposed Lunar Lander mission to find ...

Scientist to Work With NASA's Lunar Orbiter

Jan 25, 2005

NASA has selected Mark S. Robinson, research associate professor of geological sciences in Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, as one of six scientists to provide instrumentation and associated ...

To the moon: GRAIL lunar mission scheduled to launch

Sep 08, 2011

Today’s expected launch of NASA’s Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) twin spacecraft, a carefully choreographed mission to precisely map the moon’s gravitational field, could help ...

Recommended for you

Cosmic rays threaten future deep-space astronaut missions

39 minutes ago

Crewed missions to Mars remain an essential goal for NASA, but scientists are only now beginning to understand and characterize the radiation hazards that could make such ventures risky, concludes a new paper ...

MAVEN studies passing comet and its effects

2 hours ago

NASA's newest orbiter at Mars, MAVEN, took precautions to avoid harm from a dust-spewing comet that flew near Mars today and is studying the flyby's effects on the Red Planet's atmosphere.

How to safely enjoy the October 23 partial solar eclipse

3 hours ago

2014 – a year rich in eclipses. The Moon dutifully slid into Earth's shadow in April and October gifting us with two total lunars. Now it's the Sun's turn. This Thursday October 23 skywatchers across much ...

How to grip an asteroid

3 hours ago

For someone like Edward Fouad, a junior at Caltech who has always been interested in robotics and mechanical engineering, it was an ideal project: help develop robotic technology that could one day fly on ...

Image: Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

6 hours ago

It was 45 years ago when astronomer Klim Churyumov and Svetlana Gerasimenko, one of his researchers, unwittingly began a new chapter in the history of space exploration.

Extreme ultraviolet image of a significant solar flare

6 hours ago

The sun emitted a significant solar flare on Oct. 19, 2014, peaking at 1:01 a.m. EDT. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which is always observing the sun, captured this image of the event in extreme ultraviolet ...

User comments : 31

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (3) Oct 07, 2011
The cost of raw materials for lunar-based industry just dropped...
2.2 / 5 (5) Oct 07, 2011
Lunar based industry does not exist, and until people LIVE on the moon it will never exist due to the high cost of transporting materials from the moon to Earth.
3.4 / 5 (5) Oct 07, 2011
Here's an idea though... say you had a factory on the moon that made titanium shit or whatever, and you wanted to get the final products to earth as cheaply as possible... would it be possible, due to the lower gravity on the moon, to launch a large dumb-fire projectile onto a trajectory that would ensure it would enter the earths atmosphere and then open parachutes like the mars rovers to drift gently to the ground to be collected by recovery teams? It shouldn't be that difficult to ensure it hits the ocean either, and with auto-inflating rafts it would just float there ready to be recovered by a special team nearby who were informed of it's approximate landing coordinates through GPS tracking as it entered the atmosphere...
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 07, 2011
In for someone doing the math to figure out the velocity needed to be achieved by a projectile to break lunar orbit...
3 / 5 (4) Oct 07, 2011

I'm pretty sure a rail gun would be ideal. Low surface gravity, low escape velocity, and no air resistance.

The way you'd make this work is through massive automation and self-replication.

However, I think it's far cheaper to exhaust the mining options on our own planet, unless the price of some metal in the moon gets so high as to make it worth it.

Supposedly, the moon contains an elevated amount of He3, which is supposed to be useful in fusion, but nobody has even demonstrated economical He3 fusion, so even that is probably useless.

The Alumina, (Al2O3), is probably more valuable for space than titanium, (after baking out the Oxygen,) as it is much, much lighter, and particularly on the Moon and Mars where the gravity is so much lighter.

Aluminum would be the ultimate structural space metal in low gravity.

Al2O3 is the formula for Corundum, which is Saphire, which is incredibly hard. You'd probably need lasers or diamond tools to mine this stuff.
3 / 5 (4) Oct 07, 2011
In for someone doing the math to figure out the velocity needed to be achieved by a projectile to break lunar orbit...

Lunar Escape Velocity is 2.38km/s.

We already have experimental weaponized rail guns capable of firing a projectile at or above that in atmosphere.

There are also hydrogen gas guns capable of similar velocities, but that wouldn't be good on the Moon, since you'd lose all your gas with no good way to replenish it.

Building a Lunar rail gun large enough to launch a cargo capsule would be a very big project, but certainly not impossible. But you'd need mining and refining already in place on the moon to do it. Else, it would cost several TRILLION dollars to build and launch something like that, because it's going to be larger than an aircraft carrier. You'd need to build as much of the structure components as possible from materials already on the Moon, and import special components from Earth; else launch costs from Earth would be impossible.
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 07, 2011
@CHollman82 One word: Robotics.
1.8 / 5 (4) Oct 07, 2011
@CHollman82 One word: Robotics.

Yeah but I wasn't talking about workers, I was talking about getting finished goods to consumers... unless you mean that robots will both be the producers and the consumers... which I suppose is possible, but humans have to get their hands on some final product eventually or no one makes money and so there is no incentive to do it.
not rated yet Oct 07, 2011
The real payoff is to not deliver the stuff to Earth, but to use it on the moon to create stuff for use in space. You can start small using teleoperated robots to mine and build more robots, etc. until you reach a point when it makes sense to send up some humans. We have that ability now. Many people would love to be involved in such an endeavor. What are we waiting for, NASA/ESA permission?
2 / 5 (4) Oct 07, 2011
What are we waiting for, NASA/ESA permission?

I wouldn't know for sure, but there may be international treaty forbidding anyone from staking a claim on the Moon.

I mean, who gets the "rights" to the resources there?

First come, first served?

If the moon contains some super-exotic isotope in it's deep crust or mantle and someone eventually finds it, would it start a "World War"?

Why shold some CEO or some 3rd or 4th generation decendent of a corporation's founder automatically get part ownership of the Moon, just because they were the first ones to get ther? After all, they inherited the company and the technology, or in some cases are given it by the government. They didn't necessarily build that from the ground up. Why should they get to own and monopolize the Moon?

But I actually agree with you in principle. Once you get a manufacturing facility in space, it's mostly a waste of energy to transport stuff back to Earth, at least above profitability...
2 / 5 (4) Oct 07, 2011
Yes, you'd want to send some things back to Earth, like Gold, rare earth metals, etc, but not always.

Once you get a manufacturing facility in space you want to use it for making more machines and habitats for human dwelling for space colonization.

Landing a space ship on a planet is a complete waste of energy, except for colonization or insertion of a self-replicating mining system, and even then you wouldn't want to land something large, like a "mothership".

Mostly what you will be doing in space is building self-sufficent space habitats on the Moon, Mars, or artificial orbital platforms of some sort.

I suppose if you eventually tapped Zero Point Energy or wormholes or teleportation or something like that, then we wouldn't care about energy costs, and terraforming a planet would be peanuts too...
5 / 5 (1) Oct 07, 2011
@Nano The 1967 Outer Space Treaty is the "controlling" argument, although it is really vague. Check it out. Governments are not allowed to "claim" or "own" anything, and they are responsible for their citizens. However, the US seems to be slowly easing away from any strict interpretations. I agree with most of what you have said, but ZPE, etc is too far fetched for me. Just simple engineering will do nicely and we can do it today with current "off the shelf" technology.
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 07, 2011
Well damn.

Article 2 of the treaty practically bans anything that would be useful...

outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means

Would seem to forbid mining of resources from celestial objects, seeing as how you'd be making a claim by default...

This would also make colonization by anyone except pirates illegal, due to the "by any other means" phrase, since mining and colonization would again require a person to be making a "claim" by default.

People would not move to a place and work there unless they had the right to own something.

the activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty.

Suggests a corporation is subject to the same rules as it's home nation...
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 07, 2011
Am I reading too much into that?

We know what patent wars look like in existing corporations, can you imagine the espionage, sabotage, and other crap going on if privatized space mining was done?

It's weird though...

Even if it is legal,it'll never be worth it unless something really, really valuable is discovered, or unless we get at least the self-replicating robots anyway.

the State that launches a space object retains jurisdiction and control over that object.

Does not seem to cover the case of a self-replicating robot.

After all, the "child" was not launched, and is made from components on the celestial body(s) in question.

Our legal system sucks. Congress and presidents signing treaties they have no idea of the consequences...

I guess when this was done nobody took it seriously except for the nuclear weapons part.

Now that we are reaching the pinnacle of technology to make this stuff work, it's important again.
4 / 5 (4) Oct 07, 2011
As I recall, Titanium is a major component of NiTiNol. NiTiNol has the unusual property of returning to its original form as a flat sheet even after it has been crumpled beyond recognition. It straightens out when heated to a certain temperature and is a valuable commodity for industrial uses. It can also be curled up as a cylinder if that is the form in which it was manufactured and, if straightened out, will return to its cylindrical shape after having been heated. Just for that alone, it would be worth mining the Moon, depending on whether or not it's readily available.
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 08, 2011
Here's an idea though...., launch a large dumb-fire projectile onto a trajectory that would ensure it would enter the earths atmosphere ...

This kind of idea has been proposed and worked out in considerable details for decades. Mass driver concept was hatched mostly to exploit the low escape velocity of the Moon and other low gravity bodies in space for space exploration/space industries. "The Moon is a harsh mistress" by R. A. Heinlein is one well known example of literature on the uses of mass drivers from the Moon.
1 / 5 (3) Oct 08, 2011
I don't think anyone here has mentioned the implications of mining outside the earth. We have already destroyed our planet and it is out of balance from mining. Hey, lets go ruin whatever else we can reach out there, including our moon which governs our gravity.. just sayin...
not rated yet Oct 08, 2011
The 1967 OST makes the launching country strictly liable for the object launched. However, a mining/manufacturing operation on the moon is not necessarily "claiming" the materials as long as the output is intended for sale on a "global" market. There are lots of opinions on this and the outcome is far from decided. Eventually, new nations will be formed and independent from those on Earth. Remember the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 which divided the world between Spain and Portugal. Oh, and Facine, I couldn't disagree with you more. Our planet is far from destroyed or "out of balance" from mining. The moon does not govern our gravity, just our tides. And "space" is really, really big, with infinite resources. Without going into space, the human race is doomed, as eventually a really big rock is going to hit us and we will go the way of the dinosaurs. just sayin...
3.8 / 5 (5) Oct 08, 2011
I don't think anyone here has mentioned the implications of mining outside the earth. We have already destroyed our planet and it is out of balance from mining. Hey, lets go ruin whatever else we can reach out there, including our moon which governs our gravity.. just sayin...

Actually,mining doesn't really destroy the environment if it's done responsibly.

Most of the materials we mine (excluding fossil fuels,) are not directly related to life in the modern biosphere.

The real problem comes with irresponsible use and waste of products, i.e. "consumerism" in which we waste and throw away a plastic container which has a 500 year life expectancy, after just one use. This is where we are wasting a huge amoung of materials and destroying the environment.

The plastics pollution in the Pacific comes from illegal dumping in the U.S. and China, from INDIVIDUALS doing it, by throwing their beer bottles and soda bottles and other crap in ditches and streams and so on...
3 / 5 (2) Oct 08, 2011
But you have no idea how much stuff people waste, BY DESIGN or oversight, untill you work in construction for a while.

Because people design for "form" or for "function" and don't consider economy very often, your house might have a patch of wall 11 ft long, and siding comes in 12ft sections because everything usually comes in even lengths. So you waste 1/12 of the vynl, and in most cases not much of it will be useful anywhere else on the house, except perhaps in the odd case between two close windows or doors. So statistically, the average waste on a piece of building material is one running foot.

All of this gets thrown in landfills or burned or disposed in some other way.

About 10% of the price of a new home or apartment is in this waste, not even counting wastes at the original saw mill, though they capture some of that in particle could cut that value down nearly to half just by making materials at odd lengths, especially plastics and vynls.
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 08, 2011
If America wants to fix the economy, try being economical for once.

The problem with the republican and tea party view is that they claim to be all about "small business", but most 1099 income earners make no more than w2 income earners. They present "small business" as the solution outwardly, but in reality they are all about monopoly of big business.

If everyone is a small business owner, who works for them?

How many gourmet cupcake companies and 3rd party computer repair companies can fit in one town?

YOu want to save America 100 billion, or a trillion per year? I can do that, but you have to get somebody to listen and actually "think" first.

What we have now is everyone goes to work and does their job, and pretty much goes for the "priceline" advertisement gimmick: buy and sell what a celebrity tells you to, whether or not it makes sense and whether or not it's cost effective in the long term, etc.

Quit being cattle first of all, people...
not rated yet Oct 08, 2011
does XX percent mean 20%, or a given percent, or an unknown percent?
3.3 / 5 (3) Oct 08, 2011
I was just at a local store, and I counted, I think, 520 flourescent light bulbs. Literally a double row every 10 feet across the store's depth, and a double row going perpendicular on either end.

Now the store owners know that the "consumers" need to be able to see things, so they use so much light, but before today, I never gave much thought to just how many lights are there. 520 bulbs.

How is it that "Economics" in America is never "Economical"?

Maybe nothing makes sense to me because nothing makes sense.

It's like the more you waste, the more people are willing to pay for something...
3 / 5 (2) Oct 08, 2011
does XX percent mean 20%, or a given percent, or an unknown percent?

If it says "XX" then the percent sign must be an escape operator in the forum script.

I gave the number 10 percent, and I believe it should be possible to cut it to about 5 just by making more odd sizes in standard building materials, or by architects designing with real world building materials in consideration, instead of the "build it for the looks" mentality they have now.
2 / 5 (2) Oct 08, 2011
Mostly what you will be doing in space is building self-sufficent space habitats on the Moon, Mars, or artificial orbital platforms of some sort.

Self-sufficient space habitats - that is the real tech holding things back. We cant do that right now. Transporting consumables is expensive and makes the whole endeavor a huge money drain. -- see ISS.
2.7 / 5 (3) Oct 08, 2011
Self-sufficient space habitats - that is the real tech holding things back. We cant do that right now. Transporting consumables is expensive and makes the whole endeavor a huge money drain. -- see ISS.

The real problem with the ISS is it's ill conceived.

YOu need huge amounts of energy inputs and resource inputs from the environment in order to be self sufficient. If you have no resource inputs then you need 100 percent recyclability, which requires even more energy inputs.

It was designed as an experiment. A very expensive one at that.

Next time, we need something that can actually pay for itself, which is to say a mining colony.
1 / 5 (3) Oct 09, 2011
Radiated Titanium doesn't worth much
2 / 5 (2) Oct 10, 2011
Mining and/or settlements on the Moon will, of course, require resources not available right there, to be imported from Earth. Much the same as importing goods to Guam and Hawaii that don't ordinarily originate on the islands.
Perhaps at some point in the far future, an elevator of sorts can be designed that could be tethered to a very long cable that extends up past the ionosphere, attached to a stationary platform in Earth orbit, but in a geosynchronous orbit to the Earth so that the cable can raise and lower the elevator from the platform to carry contents up to the platform and down again with products from the Moon mining operations. Expensive rocket fuel would not be needed except for the trips between the Moon and the platform. And by then, a firm like SpaceX may have discovered a new method of propulsion such as the utilization of concentrated radiation from outer space to heat up whatever they will be using as rocket fuel. Something cheap but efficient.
not rated yet Oct 10, 2011
yes, at first the resources to build a small teleoperated mining operation will need to be shipped up from earth. One of the most critical items would be one or more "3d replicators", probably one of each kind (sintering and depositional). The teleoperated equipment must be able to assemble the parts being made, so you will need 3 or more robotic arms. Then, start making ???, which could be anything from legos to whatever. Need a new tool or mold? Beam up the specifications to the replicator. This stuff doesn't need to be big, just constantly gathering the ore, refining it, building parts, and assembling them. Over time, you will build up enough shelters and equipment to make a manned base operational. You won't need a space elevator, a delta or atlas will do, and there is enough water on the moon to power a space shuttle flight every day for hundreds of years (It's true, check out NASA). Water, iron, titanium, silicon, calcium, potasium etc have all been confirmed.
3 / 5 (2) Oct 10, 2011
First things first: We have to have rocket(ships) that are versatile, dependable and upgradable for at least 50 years or more, to start and sustain space exploration, instead of continuing to design every new rocket for new job and scrap the old ones as we are slaved to the SOP of aerospace companies now (you want to go to LEO? we'll design one for you! Want to go to geosynchronous orbits? Here are excellent designs we have on the drawing board! Want more payload? Sorry, these are the ones you want! Go to the Moon? or Mars? There are rockets for that..!) Just imagine you have to buy a new truck every time you need to do a different route...
5 / 5 (1) Oct 10, 2011
Skepticus, I agree. That's why we don't need any new rockets. The Delta, Atlas, Taurus, Ariane, Long March, Proton, Falcon, etc can do the job and get equipment to the moon to start up the entire space industry. I haven't run the numbers yet, but putting a small teleoperated factory/mining operation on the moon could probably be done for 100,000,000 USD and could be done within 2-3 years. Once it has been demonstrated, bet your bucks on Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Bechtel, and the other super-corporations to be there in a big hurry.