New research considers what lies below the moon's surface

New research considers what lies below the moon's surface
his oblique view of the moon's surface photographed by the Apollo 10 astronauts in May 1969. Credit: NASA

A new study by geologists in Canada and the United States suggests a repository of precious metals may be locked deep below the moon's surface.

James Brenan, a professor at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Dalhousie and lead author of the study in Nature Geoscience, says he and fellow researchers were able to draw parallels between mineral deposits found on Earth and the moon.

"We have been able to link the sulfur content of lunar volcanic rocks to the presence of iron sulfide deep inside the moon," said Dr. Brenan, who collaborated with geologists at Carleton University and the Geophysical Laboratory in Washington, D.C. for the paper that was published on Aug. 19.

"Examination of on Earth suggests that iron sulfide is a great place to store precious metals, like platinum and palladium."

Under the moon's surface

Geologists have long speculated that the moon was formed by the impact of a massive planet-sized object from the Earth 4.5 billion years ago. Because of that common history, it is believed that the two bodies have a similar composition. Early measurements of the precious metal concentrations in lunar volcanic rocks done in 2006, however, showed unusually low levels, raising a question that has perplexed scientists for more than a decade as to why there was so little.

Dr. Brenan says it had been thought that those low levels reflected a general depletion of the precious metals in the moon as a whole.

This new research, which was funded with the support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, offers an explanation on the surprisingly low levels and adds valuable insight into the composition of the moon.

"Our results show that sulfur in lunar volcanic rocks is a fingerprint for the presence of iron sulfide in the rocky interior of the moon, which is where we think the precious metals were left behind when the lavas were created," he says.

A scientific recreation

Dr. Brenan, along with colleagues Jim Mungall of Carleton University and Neil Bennett formerly of the Geophysical Laboratory, did experiments to recreate the extreme pressure and temperature of the lunar interior to determine how much iron sulfide would form.

They measured the composition of the resulting rock and iron sulfide and confirmed that the would be bound up by the iron sulfide, making them unavailable to the magmas that flowed out onto the lunar surface.

Dr. Brenan clarified that there was likely not enough to form an ore deposit, Brenan "but certainly enough to explain the low levels in the lunar lavas."

Dr. Brenan says they will require samples from the deep, rocky part of the moon where the lunar lavas originated in order to confirm their findings.

Un-forged territory

Geologists have access to scientific samples from hundreds of kilometers deep inside the Earth, but such material has not yet been recovered from the moon.

"We have been scouring the Earth's surface for a fairly long period of time, so we have a pretty good idea of its composition, but with the moon that's not so at all," he said.

"We have a grand total of 400 kilograms of sample that was brought back by the Apollo and lunar missions… it's a pretty small amount of material. So, in order to find out anything about the interior of the moon we have to kind of reverse engineer the composition of the lavas that come onto the surface."

Remote sensing by satellites suggest there may be outcroppings of the deeper parts of the moon, revealed after massive impacts formed the Schrödinger and Zeeman craters in the South Pole Aitken basin.

"It's pretty exciting to think that we might return to the ," says Dr. Brenan. "And if so, the South Pole seems like a good choice for sampling."


Explore further

The moon rock that turned out to be from Earth

More information: James M. Brenan et al. Abundance of highly siderophile elements in lunar basalts controlled by iron sulfide melt, Nature Geoscience (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41561-019-0426-3
Journal information: Nature Geoscience

Citation: New research considers what lies below the moon's surface (2019, September 2) retrieved 15 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-09-lies-moon-surface.html
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Sep 02, 2019
Let's hope this is not the case, that the moon harbors precious metals. It will be ripped apart to satisfy people's lust for shiny things.

Sep 02, 2019
Let's hope this is not the case, that the moon harbors precious metals. It will be ripped apart to satisfy people's lust for shiny things.
'Precious' is a relative concept. The more you find, the less it's worth in it's original function. A flood of precious metals would devalue earth-based stocks and lead to market collapses.

This was for instance why the conquistadors spent so much time and effort gathering it up in the Americas. It wasn't greed; the real danger was that independent traders would be exchanging euro weapons and other tech for gold and silver (as well as drugs), which endangered old world cultures in very ominous ways.

So the southern and central American cultures were safely and efficiently destroyed in a gen or 2, before they could become an aggressive threat. The metals were secured and distributed in controlled fashion to the euro powers. And much of it was simply sailed out into the atlantic and scuttled.

Sep 02, 2019
Remember goldfinger? He had the reverse idea; irradiate the gold in ft Knox, and his hoard would soar in value.

However if we do find vast quantities on the moon, mars, and in asteroids, perhaps it could be used in bulk manufacturing or even as construction materials. Who knows what we could do with platinum if it becomes as cheap and plentiful as titanium?

Not only metals... what about diamond or beryl window glass?

Financial markets would have to be secured long before those things would be possible though.

There is talk of returning to the gold standard for currency. It seems to me that this would only work if you found a LOT more gold. And maybe this talk is signaling the anticipation of future discoveries off-planet. There is a pending mission to an asteroid that is supposedly full of the stuff.
https://www.nbcne...a1027971

-If it plays out, a gold standard might just be essential.

Sep 02, 2019
@TheGhostofOtto1923 well you may be right but I doubt it. Greed will run away with 'private collectors'. Not only that on another similar thread I mentioned that companies were looking to the future of mining elsewhere in the SS. Even if the metals do take on a new value for construction and other purposes that will still mean profit for the miners. There will have to be a strong contract between who should mine where and that's not likely either...we can't get it right on Earth so what is the chance of it succeeding on the Moon, Mars etc.

Sep 03, 2019
This is good news for planetary scientists interested in the impact Moon formation!

Let's hope this is not the case, that the moon harbors precious metals. It will be ripped apart to satisfy people's lust for shiny things.


The Moon is 1 % of Earth mass, that a lot to ask that it will be "ripped apart". And don't you think the persistent impact flow has made a huge number on it already? The crust is *literary* is "ripped apart" (but not much extracted to elsewhere) some 30 km down!

@Mimath: Economy of exo-mining aside (a small platinum asteroid would crash the market), don't you think a larger economy would be more robust? Greed, has made the human world go around for the last few thousand years - we are all the better for it.

Sep 03, 2019
This is good news for planetary scientists interested in the impact Moon formation!
Greed, has made the human world go around for the last few thousand years - we are all the better for it.

So you agree with all the corruption and killing that is a result of greed. '...we are all the better for it...' is a wind up comment?

Sep 03, 2019
So you agree with all the corruption and killing that is a result of greed. '...we are all the better for it...' is a wind up comment?


Things are better than ever before in human history. See Harvard Dr. Steven Pinker's work.

Sep 03, 2019
'Things are better than ever before in human history. See Harvard Dr. Steven Pinker's work.'
Who neglects many of the atrocities in recent history and neglects irresponsible actions. He has many critics. Did you know that in a certain SE Asian country more than 20,000 people are killed on the roads in one year (been like that for years). All this because life is cheap corruption and greed are rife.
Sex related crime is on the increase, bank....etc.etc. We live in an opportunists society now more than we ever did because because technology has provided the easy means to perverse inclinations. The ancients and those of even 100 years didn't have that.
That's the reality and will take that where ever we go. I agree with Pinker that we have the capacity to become humanists and perhaps one day, I hope, we'll achieve that.

Sep 03, 2019
Let's hope this is not the case, that the moon harbors precious metals. It will be ripped apart to satisfy people's lust for shiny things.


so many ninnyhammers. so little time.

Sep 06, 2019
Things are better than ever before in human history. See Steven Pinker's work
I'm surprised that shootist would fall for this crap.

"Steven Pinker's technocratic liberalism has nothing to do with the radical spirit of the Enlightenment."

"A cognitive psychologist, Pinker is fond of importing scientific concepts in order to bolster his political arguments."
-Where have we heard THAT before?

"Stubborn in his belief that we are all just individuals, he derides class consciousness as just another form of tribalism..."
-Or that? (I am so gratified)

NONE of these guys can acknowledge that it is only the ONE BILLION ABORTIONS worldwide in the last 50years, and the massive dissemination of contraceptives preempting a similar number, that have given the human race only a temporary reprieve.

But outside the shining walls of the city on a hill, religion-fueled overgrowth continues unabated; stripping, polluting, extincting, ruining. Too many people, so little time.

Sep 06, 2019
TheGhostofOtto1923 well you may be right but I doubt it. Greed will run away with 'private collectors'
No you dont understand. One guy shows up with a nugget and it's worth $1000. Ten guys show up with nuggets and they're worth $100apc. Sure, people are stealing copper wire out of construction sites. But gold could well be worth the same thing if enough of it is found. And nobody is going to haul copper wire half way across the solar system.

Like turbo says, one platinum asteroid would crash the market. Platinum hub caps and frying pans.

Sep 07, 2019
Moon Lighting on our Moonchine

Has now turned to Gold Fever

p.s. pity it is 250,000 miles away in the vacuum of space and the cost of transporting this gold is prohibitively expensive, still a dreams a dream!

Sep 07, 2019
Going Walk-About till Gold Fever Strikes

Mining Moonchine gold
Mirrors mining aussi outback gold

Walk into this outback
With your metal detector
As this ground is literally peppered with billions of gold nuggets
From gram nuggets to kilogram nuggets
For nuggets of an ounce are commonly picked up a dozen a day
For at $1,500 on ounce
Is worth the hardships of working all day in this 50C heat

But
Just
Like this Moonchine
When gold fever strikes
As it always does
And the greed for more takes hold
These Aussies by huge machines
To get these millions of Aussie dollars
Then all your profits disappear in buying and maintaining these machines
Where eventually you leave in debt, up to their eyeballs

But go walk-about at this weekend
On your own with your scrumptious
Fore between you, you can walk away with literally $1000s

That is, till gold fever strikes

p.s. these massive machines in this outback are the very machines required on our Moonchine
in this fine sticky dusty regolith

Sep 07, 2019
From an adjacent article:

"Platinum has long been used as a catalyst to enable the oxidation reduction reaction at the center of fuel cell technology. But the metal's high cost is one factor that has hindered fuel cells from competing with cheaper ways of powering automobiles and homes."

-As there are hydrocarbons throughout the solar system, we should be finding massive quantities below the martian regolith as well. Imagine if we found megatons of these catalysts... terraforming could become a terrifying possibility.

Sep 07, 2019
I'll save them the time, trouble and billions. It's Swiss cheese all the way down.

Sep 07, 2019
...terraforming could become a terrifying possibility
Project Medusa, anyone?

Sep 07, 2019
This Terrifying Terraforming

While GhostlyOtto is busy
With his terrifying Terraforming
Burrowing in this Martian regolith
Creating a haven for this pitter-patter of baby GhostlyOtto's

The rest of us, humanity that is
Are relaxing in the Bahamas
With these luxurious beach hotels, with these sparkling waves, rolling up these beach's
Where sun kissed sun worshippers soaking up these golden rays

Spare a moment
For GhostlyOtto
Millions of miles hence, on this barren lifeless regolith, we call Mars
Terraforming this Martian regolith
In the sure and certain knowledge
One day, this barren lifeless regolith
Will be a barren lifeless terraformed Martian regolith
For the only life force
Will be theses Ghosts

GhostlyOtto and these pitter-patter of baby GhostlyOtto's

Sep 07, 2019
...terraforming could become a terrifying possibility
https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/research/a27891820/bacteria-runways-air-force/, anyone?
Supergirl? Really? (the trannys hot). I just dont like the idea of taking a perfectly good planet like mars and mucking it all up with an uncontrollable miasma of transplanted earth biota. Also all the mud and rust and flooding and hurricanes and such.

Earth life depended for millions of years on relative isolation; continents separated by oceans, ecosystems divided by mountain ranges, latitudes, and so forth. That's all breaking down now and life on earth may be critically damaged by all the swapping and invading that's going on. That's terrifying.

On mars we can comfortably house millions underground in huge carved out spaces. We can manage and control their isolation from each other. This may be the most important reason to start over up there.

Machines love the martian surface just the way it is.

Sep 07, 2019
Oh I see it's a hot link. No way to tell.
Are relaxing in the Bahamas
You trolling again?
https://www.foxne...truction

-Of course you are. Martians wont want this sort of mess ruining the surface infrastructure they've spent several gens building, now would they?

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