The Moon: Putting an end to “been there, done that”.

“Surely there is nothing left to learn from the Moon?” As a lunar scientist this is one of the easiest questions to answer, along with “the Moon landings were faked weren’t they?” NO, the Moon landings were not faked. NO we have not got the Moon wrapped up. In fact, this is a truly exciting time to be studying the Moon. Hopefully this summary of the most recent gathering of the lunar community will convince you of this.

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Fig. 1. St Paulus Dom, Munster

Last week saw the world’s lunar scientists (young and old) unite in the city of Mϋnster for two meetings regarding all things lunar. This beautiful historical German city (fig. 1) with such a modern mindset (where there are more bicycles than residents) provided the perfect setting for presentation of recent exciting findings regarding the Moon, with a key focus on future lunar missions and scientific research.

European Lunar Symposium

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Fig. 2. Schloss conference venue

Located in the stunning Schloss venue (fig. 2), the week kicked off with the 5th European Lunar Symposium (ELS).  Three of us from the University of Manchester were there to present our latest contributions to lunar science. Sam Bell presented her poster on quantitative petrological analysis of crystals in Apollo 15 samples and their use for understanding lunar magmatic plumbing systems (fig. 3).  Dayl Martin focussed on his research using samples from the surface of the Moon, and simulants of lunar surface material. He is working with an international team developing the mid-infrared technique, and how it responds to different mineralogies, textures and shock in preparation for future orbital missions, including to Mercury. I presented a poster outlining a mass spectrometry technique developed at the University of Manchester, which I used to measure the heavy halogen

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Fig. 3. Sam Bell presenting her latest research

(Cl, Br, and I) composition of Apollo lunar mare basalts. Combined with petrological and 40Ar-39Ar dating analyses I am able to provide a multi-discipline approach to contributing to the understanding of volatiles within the lunar nearside mantle.

The meeting had a great turn out including contributions on the most recent Apollo/Luna sample and lunar meteorite analyses, updates on development of in-situ resource utilisation (ISRU) targets and techniques, modelling of the lunar interior, surface and environment, and new approaches to remote sensing measurements past, present and future.  Such a conference promoted dynamic discussion for constraining future research towards understanding the physical, chemical, thermal and environmental evolution of the Moon, and its vital role as a monitor to the conditions of the early inner solar system.

The post-lunch treat on the second day of the meeting was a special presentation from

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Fig. 4. ESA astronaut Dr Matthias Maurer

the newest ESA astronaut, Dr Matthias Maurer (fig. 4). Matthias provided a unique inside view into the physical, technical and mental training of an astronaut. A great deal of effort is involved in getting a space suit to do what the human being wants it to! Matthias was very keen that the scientific community have good communication with mission planners, engineers and astronauts to ensure the success of future space exploration – a key message very much echoed in the New Views of the Moon 2 meeting that was held during the second half of the week.

New Views of the Moon 2:

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The Mineralogical Society of America publication, “New views of the Moon” was created by the lunar science community in 2006. The book provides an integrated and synthesised understanding of the pioneering mineralogical and geochemical research that resulted from analyses of the Apollo and Luna samples, combined with the incredible orbital mission data of the 1990s (including Clementine and Lunar Prospector).

There is not a lunar scientist that does not have a heavily thumbed copy of this key publication. The collated information drastically changed how the Moon was perceived. Giant impact theories, lunar magma oceans, evidence for “wet” vs “dry” Moon, diverse lithologies, volcanic and tectonic activity were just a few of the areas covered.  The once perceived view of the Moon as a relatively geologically “dull” body could no longer be. More importantly, this collated understanding of the origin and evolution of the Moon highlighted the key questions that remained to be addressed. Since 2006 the lunar community has worked hard to address those questions. Aided with technological advancements, an overwhelming amount of new orbital and remote sensing data, and the addition of many more physicists, engineers and mathematicians to the lunar geologist community, it is time to once again come together to produce “New Views of the Moon 2”. Therefore, the second part of the week saw the second meeting regarding the writing of the new edition. The following statement encapsulates the overarching themes:

Science of the Moon”, “Science on the Moon”, “Science from the Moon” and “Future Lunar Missions”. 

Representatives from the different proposed chapters presented their updated outlines, with select contributors presenting their recent work and its relevance for inclusion in the new book. In particular, there were updates on research that utilised the wealth of remote sensing data that has been collected since the 1990s, including data from the many instruments on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), and new results from the Chang’E-3 optical instruments. With the ANSMET programme collection of lunar meteorites continually increasing our range of material from the Moon, we are building a more global understanding of the Moon. The continued analyses of meteorites and returned samples is going to provide a major contribution to New views of the Moon 2.

It soon became apparent that there was a lot of common interest and overlap between chapters, although an editorial nightmare for the final version of the book, it was encouraging and exciting to see just how much the work occurring around the world feeds back into and compliments each other. Key questions remaining are: the architecture and logistics of future missions, technicalities of the proposed Moon village, ISRU, constraining ages of lunar surface features (and in turn the timing of the impact flux of the early inner solar system), constraining volatile budgets and their role in the origin and evolution of the Moon, understanding the geophysical properties of the formation and evolution of the Moon and the near surface environment, and identifying target sites/samples to test modelling and to provide ground truth for the interpretation of remote sensing and ongoing sample analyses.

Overall the new edition will be a collaborative summary of the work that has been done since 2006. The ultimate focus is on synthesising where there are gaps in knowledge and providing a framework for future science goals, with regard to overdue moon missions.  New Views of the Moon 2 is to be published within the next two years and will be a working document for not just lunar research scientists, but to include engineers, the private sector, politicians and all who are interested in future missions to the Moon and onward space horizons.

With so much still to learn from the Moon, we most certainly have NOT “been there, done that”.

Thank you to the hosts.

It remains to say that the organisation was fantastic and was reflected in the good progress and informative discussion during both meetings. A very generous supply of Weissbier was provided during the poster session and the bespoke planetarium experience was a true highlight.  Rounded off with fine dining at the mill, a big thank you to all the organisers, session chairs, and in particular, to the hosts from the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster.

 

 

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