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Moon research to shed light on Earth’s development

Media release

C080/2012

Researchers from Curtin University have received a three-year Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project grant to further investigate the early history of the moon.

The work builds on previous uranium-lead dating of moon rocks from NASA’s Apollo 14 and 17 missions, adding samples from Apollo 12, 15 and 16.

Associate Professor Alexander Nemchin of Curtin’s School of Geology said the new sites covered more area and added new rock types to those already analysed at Curtin.

“This is important because we’re trying to test models of solar system evolution using samples collected from a few very small areas,” Associate Professor Nemchin said.

The focus of Associate Professor Nemchin’s research is to understand how the Earth developed and why the planet has come to possess water, plate tectonics and life.

“The likely answer is that something was special about Earth in the very early stages of its history,” he said.

“However, Earth is still active with volcanic activity, mountain building and erosion, so the early record is continually being erased. We’ve lost the first 500 billion years of history because of this.

“Studying the moon may be the only direct way of understanding Earth’s evolution, because its internal activity ceased billions of years ago.”

The ARC project will focus on testing hypotheses surrounding the Lunar Magma Ocean, a period in which the entire surface of the moon was molten, and the Late Heavy Bombardment, a period about 3.9 billion years ago in which asteroid collisions with the moon, and likely Earth, increased sharply.

“We’re trying to understand the timing of events and how the Lunar Magma Ocean might have evolved, including cooling and mineral crystallisation,” Associate Professor Nemchin said.

“If we can understand that, we can use this information here on Earth, taking into account differences in the mass of the two bodies, different rates of cooling and possibly different volatile content.

“We can then compare the moon, Earth and perhaps other planets in the inner solar system to explain characteristic features of our planet, such as liquid water and plate tectonics.

“We will also try to gain additional information about the impact history of the moon, which must be similar to that of the Earth, considering their proximity.”

Associate Professor Nemchin said the project would involve researchers from around the globe, including collaborators from Australian National University, NASA, Lunar Planetary Institute in Houston, Stockholm Natural History Museum and Bonn University.

Contact:

Rob Payne, Public Relations, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 4241, Email: rob.payne@curtin.edu.au

Associate Professor Alexander Nemchin, School of Geology, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 2445, Email: a.nemchin@curtin.edu.au