UK synchrotron maps Apollo moon rocks

Editorial

Rebecca Pool

Tuesday, October 2, 2018 - 11:00
Image: Geologist, Matt Pankhurst, Instituto Volcanológico de Canarias, and colleagues, are studying lunar rocks at Diamond. 
 
An international collaboration of researchers is using novel X-ray imaging at UK synchrotron Diamond to map ancient Moon rocks recovered during the Apollo 12 and 15 Missions.
 
By applying speckle X-ray imaging to these olivine basalt samples - some 3 billion years old - Dr Matt Pankhurst of Instituto Volcanológico de Canarias and NASA lunar principle investigator, and colleagues, hope to provide new insights into how the Moon was formed, and its volcanic history.
 
"With this new technique, [we] may be able to recover information such as what the patterns of magma flow within the volcanic system were, what the magma storage duration was like, and potentially even identify eruption triggers," says Pankhurst. "The data will be analysed using state-of-the-art diffusion modelling which will establish the history of individual crystals.”
 
Pankhurst and colleagues developed the advanced and non-destructive X-ray speckle imaging technique on Beamline B16 at Diamond Light Source.
 
As Dr Hongchang Wang, Senior Optics Scientist at Diamond, explains: “Combined with the recently developed fast fly-scan tomography and novel white beam camera, the X-ray speckle imaging technique has allowed us to swiftly and effectively collect 3D information of olivine inside of the lunar rock in much more detail than ever before.”
 
In magma, the ratio of iron to magnesium in olivine changes over timeframes ranging from hours to months, and these changes are ‘locked in’ to the mineral as the magma cools.
 
Accurate 3D images of the iron distribution within olivine in the Moon rock samples will ‘unlock’ information about the volcanic processes in which they formed.
 
An entire moon rock from an Apollo mission.
 
NASA Apollo sample curator and Planetary Scientist, Ryan Zeigler, approved the use of 18 lunar samples for these experiments.
 
As he points out: “The researchers are now using state-of-the-art diffusion modelling to establish the history of individual crystals of olivine from 3D images. These techniques will be applied to the new data gathered during this beamtime."
 
"The results will add to our understanding of lunar and planetary formation, topics which have been continually debated since the samples were first returned to Earth,” he says.
 
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