New paper about the lunar crust by group members

The Lunar Highlands: Old Crust, New Ideas *

This new review article by group members John Pernet-Fisher and Katherine Joy outlines how our understanding of lunar crustal formation has evolved over the past few decades.

Mankind first set foot on the Moon in the 1960’s and 70’s during the Apollo missions.  The ideas that followed, as a result of rocks returned from these missions, have formed that basis of how we think early planetary crusts formed.  The Moon is a uniquely place to study early crusts as such geological records are no longer accessible on Earth.

The classic hypothesis for lunar crustal formation is known as the ‘Lunar Magma Ocean’ hypothesis.  This theory argues that as the moon crystallised, the dense minerals (such as olivine and pyroxene) sank forming the lunar mantle, whereas the light minerals (such as plagioclase) floated, forming the characteristic white-coloured, high albedo, crust we see at the surface of the Moon today.

Moon Genesis rock

Lunar highlands sample 15415, known as the Genesis Rock. This sample forms part of the primary lunar crust. The white colour of the sample reflects the high proportion of plagioclase within the rock (NASA image S75-31801).

Methods for analysing the chemistry of rocks has improved a lot over the last few decades; furthermore, the collection of meteorites thought to come from the Moon has expanded greatly, adding ~90 kg of rock to the ~382 kg of rock brought back by the Apollo missions (you can find out lots of great information about lunar meteorites here and through NASA here).  Together this has resulted in scientists re-investigating the classic view of a one-stage plagioclase flotation model. For instance, within the lunar meteorite collection some samples are thought to have been launched from the Moon’s farside.  Some of these rocks have been reported to be chemically different from their nearside equivalents.  This has led some scientist to suggest that the magma which crystallised the early crust may have been compositionally different between the near- and farside. Additionally, precise dating of plagioclase-rich rocks using radiometric chronometers have shown that not all of the early-crustal material crystalized at the same time.  This has led some scientists to propose that serial plagioclase-flotation events may have occurred during the Moon’s early history.

Such continuing debate among scientists illustrates how important the Apollo sample collection continues to be, particularly for placing the ever expanding lunar meteorite collecting in context.  Furthermore, understanding the complexity of lunar crustal formation will ultimately help understand how our own planet formed.

* article written by John Pernet-Fisher


Full Citation: Pernet-Fisher, J. F., & Joy, K. H. (2016). The lunar highlands: old crust, new ideas. Astronomy & Geophysics, 57, 1-26. doi: 10.1093/astrogeo/atw039

Publisher’s website: 

University of Manchester holdings:  (download open access copy of the article)



Further Lunar Sample Resources

NASA Apollo curation labs

LPI Lunar Sample resources

Virtual Microscope

Lunar Meteorite List

Articles about lunar science


About Katherine Joy

Hello! I am Katherine Joy. I am part of the University of Manchester Isotope Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry group. More details about my research interests can be found at
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3 Responses to New paper about the lunar crust by group members

  1. Pingback: New group paper: New lunar meteorites revealing the histroy of the Moon’s crust | Earth & Solar System

  2. Pingback: New Group Paper: Impact Shock State of the Lunar Highlands | Earth & Solar System

  3. Pingback: New group paper: Chlorine isotope composition of Apollo 14 lunar rocks | Earth & Solar System

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