Tag Archive for planetary

NASA Funds Greenwood’s Lunar Rock Study

Jim Greenwood

James Greenwood, research associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, received a grant worth $494,517 from NASA. The grant will support his research titled “Water in Lunar Rocks: Petrologic and Isotopic Analyses of Phosphate Minerals in Apollo’s Samples” through June 30, 2014.

Greenwood Mentioned on BBC News Regarding Water in Lunar Rocks

James Greenwood, visiting assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, was mentioned in a June 14 BBC News science article on “Much More Water Found in Lunar Rocks.”

Greenwood and Professor Lawrence Taylor from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, have come up with evidence on the origins of lunar water: comets. According to the article, they believe there were a lot of comets flying around at the time of the Moon’s formation, “hitting the little, nascent, early Moon some 4.5 billion years ago.”

Greenwood Finds Water in Moon Rocks

Jim Greenwood, research assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, holds a slide with a moon rock sample that contains water. The water was found in the mineral apatite, which he and his team were able to identify in the sample. (Photo by Olivia Bartlett Drake)
Jim Greenwood, research assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, holds a slide with a moon rock sample that contains water. The water was found in the mineral apatite, which he and his team were able to identify in the sample. (Photo by Olivia Bartlett Drake)

Soon after the Apollo spaceflights to the moon, experts examined the rocks brought back by the astronauts and declared with certainty that the moon was a dry, waterless place.

Forty years later, James Greenwood begs to differ. Not only does he have proof, his findings strongly suggest that some of the lunar water he found is not indigenous to the moon or earth but appears to have originated from somewhere else in space.

Greenwood, research associate professor, visiting assistant professor, Earth and Environmental Sciences, pioneered a new method of analyzing the rocks using a combination of light, electron and ion-beam microscopes. He and his international team of planetary geologists and geochemists, announced their findings at the 41st Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas, in March.

It was a discovery almost didn’t happen, however. In fact, the only reason Greenwood found proof of water on the moon was because he was looking at a rock from Mars.

“I was in a lab at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, using an ion microscope to measure water in Martian meteorites,” Greenwood, who is a planetary geochemist, says. “We had pioneered this new technique to use two-dimensional ion imaging and were looking at this mineral in the meteorites called ‘apatite,’ which is a common phosphate mineral and holds water. Our analyses had been very good, probably better than ever before. So I thought, ‘What if we used this technique on moon rocks?’”

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Greenwood thought of moon rocks because a 2008 study from Brown University had found possible evidence of water in volcanic moon rocks. However, the study had been problematic and its results disputed. Still, Greenwood was intrigued that the possibility of water in the lunar rock samples had not been thoroughly vetted.

“The rocks were all declared devoid of water when they were first analyzed 40 years ago,” he said. “But I thought our new technique held some promise.”

Greenwood’s technique and the advanced instruments he gained access to, made it possible for him and the other scientists on his team to analyze the sample’s chemical composition over areas as small as 5 x 5 microns.

“In the past, they had actually ground up the analyzed samples. This created conditions that put the chemical analysis out of context,” he says. “Our method let us look at the samples as they are, in situ.”

The hardest part was getting permission to examine a sample. Less than 900 rocks were brought back from all the Apollo missions combined. Access is strictly limited.

It took several months, but Greenwood was able to get a few samples to analyze. The first were from the lunar highlands, which he thought might hold promise. But no water-holding apatite was found. Then he gained access to a sliver of rock brought back from the southwestern edge of the Mare Tranquillitatis – the “Sea of Tranquility” – where Apollo 11 had set down in 1969.

“So there we were in the lab at about 3 a.m. and the first sample we looked at, boom, there it was. Water. At first we couldn’t believe it. But we double-checked and we were just blown away. It was clearly there.”

The apatite, which is the same mineral that teeth are made of, was rife with water molecules. However, as Greenwood and his colleagues continued to analyze the samples they found that the water contained in the rocks was not from the earth or the moon.

“It was consistent in the water that comes from comets,” Greenwood says.

How could he tell? Water molecules found on earth – and those indigenous to the moon, since it was once part of the earth – contain a specific ratio of hydrogen to deuterium, which scientists use as a standard. The water Greenwood has found in some of the lunar samples has nearly twice the deuterium.

“The only things that falls into this range with any consistency are comets,” Greenwood says.

He adds that comets have long been known to hold frozen water and that perhaps as much as 10% of the earth’s water had come from comets, as well.

Microscopic water in minerals inside moon rocks is a tremendous find, but in a practical sense it does not open the door to, say, astronauts extracting this water to use on a lunar base or colony. Greenwood says that process would be too expensive and energy-exclusive with current methods. However, his discovery does open up another possibility.

“The level of water we found in the samples are consistent with the amount of water one would find from the mantle in the earth,” he says. “So there may be a reservoir of water within the mantle of the moon. Somewhat like groundwater here on earth.”

How far within the mantle, how deep below the surface is another challenge for another completely different type of study.

But Greenwood and his team have confirmed what many people have wondered for centuries, perhaps millennia. There is water on the moon.

Saturn’s Rings, Siberian Eclipse Topics at KECK Symposium

Hannah Sugarman '09 speaks on "Finding Intermediate Mass Black Holes in the Local Universe" during the 18th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium of the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium Nov. 8.

Hannah Sugarman ’09 speaks on “Finding Intermediate Mass Black Holes in the Local Universe” during the 18th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium of the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium Nov. 8.

Astronomers interested in black holes generally study small, low-mass types within our own galaxy, or super-massive black holes found in the center of other large galaxies. But during the 18th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium Nov. 7-8 at Wesleyan. astronomy major Hannah Sugarman ’09 explained the importance of finding intermediate mass black holes in the local universe.

“Small black holes are about 30 times the mass of the sun, and the big, super-massive black holes have a mass of about a million times the mass of the sun. Intermediate mass black holes are in between these mass limits,” Sugarman says. “They are important because if super-massive black holes are made by slightly smaller ones combining, we want to be able to observe the smaller ones to see how this works.”

Planetary Group Discusses NASA, Spaced-Based Achievements

Members of the Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration (COMPLEX) met at Woodhead Lounge July 20-22. Martha Gilmore, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, (pictured second from left in the first row) coordinated the meeting. 
Posted 08/17/05
Martian oceans, solar system exploration and telescopic studies of Neptune were all topics of discussion during a planetary committee meeting at Wesleyan.The Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration (COMPLEX) met at Wesleyan’s Woodhead Lounge July 20-22. COMPLEX advises the National Academies’ Space Studies Board on the entire range of planetary system studies that can be conducted from space as well as on ground-based activities in support of space-based efforts.

The 10-member committee assists the board in carrying out studies, monitoring the implementation of strategies, and providing evaluations of programs and strategic priorities for NASA and other government agencies.

Martha Gilmore, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences and COMPLEX member, coordinated the Wesleyan meeting. The committee meets about three times a year in various locations.

“Some of the work we performed in this meeting is to consider some of the consequences of the change to a new NASA administrator and the president’s Vision for Space Exploration on solar system exploration priorities as they were defined by the community prior to these changes,” Gilmore says. “It is anticipated that the group will formulate and participate in studies to address this issue.”

Andrew Dantzler and Douglas McCuistion of NASA Headquarters provided a Mars Exploration Program status report and the status of NASA solar system exploration activities.

In addition, Gilmore spoke about the geology and rocks from the opening of the Atlantic Ocean; James Greenwood, research assistant professor and visiting assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, spoke about geochemistry of a martian ocean; and William Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, chair of the Astronomy Department and director of the Van Vleck Observatory, discussed the circumstellar disk of KH15D.

Members of the board included representatives from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, University of Michigan, University of Texas, University of Arizona, University of Hawaii, University of California, Los Angeles and Johns Hopkins University.

For more information on the committee or their projects, visit: http://www7.nationalacademies.org/ssb/complex1.html or http://www.nasa.gov/missions/solarsystem/explore_main.html.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor