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Curtin researchers find rare Moon mineral in Western Australia

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Image: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (cc)

Curtin researchers have discovered a mineral previously thought to be unique to the surface of the Moon in rock taken from the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Tranquillityite, named after the Apollo 11 landing site the Sea of Tranquility, was one of three minerals discovered in rocks brought back to Earth by Neil Armstrong’s crew, and the only one which had never subsequently been found on Earth, leading scientists to believe it was the Moon’s own mineral.

A thin slice of the dolerite which was found to contain the tranquillityite.

But Curtin researcher Professor Birger Rasmussen and his team from the Department of Applied Geology have set the record straight, identifying the mineral in samples taken from six locations throughout Western Australia.

Professor Rasmussen said the initial discovery was by chance.

“We actually stumbled upon it whilst taking samples for another project, so we weren’t actually looking for it, but we always had our eye out because we knew it hadn’t been discovered” he said.

“When we came across it we had a pretty good idea that it was tranquillityite.”

“It was a very exciting find. I turned to my team and said ‘we’ve got it!’.”

Prof Rasmussen said the mineral can be used as an extremely effective dating tool, allowing scientists to accurately measure the age of rocks. He said it had been used to date dolerite – the rock in which it was found – at more than a billion years old, which is more ancient than previously thought.

The other two minerals brought back from the moon, armalcolite and pyroxferroite, were both found on Earth within a decade of the lunar landing.

“This finding closes the book for the time being” Rasmussen said.

“It probably takes away some of the mystique of the Moon, but hey, that’s life.”

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