An asteroid impact on the Moon dislodged fragments of lunar lave and sent them flying down to Earth, where they eventually landed or burned up in the atmosphere. Some of these meteorites fell in Antarctica and a new analysis of some of them has revealed a connection between the Moon and the Earth, which provides even more evidence for how our natural satellite came to be.
The Moon is believed to have formed in a catastrophic impact, when an object the size of Mars, slammed into the primordial Earth. The collision is thought to have sent a huge amount of material into orbit, some of which fell back down while the rest coalesced into the Moon. Eventually, some of that material located in the inner layer of the Moon made its way to the surface as lava, but its composition retained a sample of the original material. The new findings seem to back up this theory.
As reported in Science Advances, researchers found tiny glass particles in six meteorites among the thousands that had been collected by NASA. Within that glass, they found, were traces of the noble gases helium and neon, which were coming from the Moon's interior. And that's not all. The chemical fingerprints of these gases were just like those found inside the Earth’s mantle. A crucial link that supports the Giant Impact hypothesis.
“Finding [noble] gases, for the first time, in basaltic materials from the Moon that are unrelated to any exposure on the lunar surface was such an exciting result,” lead author Dr Patrizia Will, formerly at ETH Zurich, said in a statement.
The analysis was only possible thanks to an extremely sophisticated instrument, the only instrument in the world capable of detecting such minimal concentrations of helium and neon. The team expects that searches for noble gases that are more challenging to identify, such as xenon and krypton, will follow suit. And maybe even hydrogen and halogens.
“I am strongly convinced that there will be a race to study heavy noble gases and isotopes in meteoritic materials,” explained ETH Zurich Professor Henner Busemann, one of the world's leading scientists in the field of extra-terrestrial noble gas geochemistry.
“While such gases are not necessary for life, it would be interesting to know how some of these noble gases survived the brutal and violent formation of the moon. Such knowledge might help scientists in geochemistry and geophysics to create new models that show more generally how such most volatile elements can survive planet formation, in our solar system and beyond.”