A team of meteorite hunters from the NASA-funded Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET) program, discovered five new pieces of the Moon during an expedition to Antarctica in December 2018 and January 2019, and mineralogical analysis confirms their origin.
They were found in the Transantarctic Mountains and add up to nearly 100 grams (about as heavy as four double-A batteries), in an ice field roughly 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the South Pole.
The meteorites were characterized as “unmistakably lunar” by curatorial scientists at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, involved in classification of the US Antarctic meteorites.
The new samples are a breccia, a type of rock containing many angular fragments and welded together by impacts on the Moon.The new specimens bring the total of lunar basaltic breccias in the U.S. Antarctic meteorite collection to nine, with others being recovered in 1987, 1994, 1996, and 2001.
“These new samples give us an opportunity to continue learning about the Moon as we prepare for future surface operations with the Artemis Program,” said Kevin Righter, Antarctic meteorite curator at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “The new samples may hold previously unknown information about the evolution of the Moon, and the origin and volatile contents of its basaltic rocks.”
NASA’s Artemis program is part of NASA’s broader Moon to Mars next step in human exploration, enabling the first woman and next man to set foot on the Moon by 2024, and establishing a sustainable exploration program with commercial and international partners by 2028. Artemis also is preparing for humanity’s next giant leap, human exploration of Mars.
The Antarctic Meteorite Laboratory at Johnson will curate the new lunar samples, and make them available to researchers for further study. The Johnson laboratory is responsible for curating the active research collection of ANSMET samples, which began in 1976. The new samples, like the other extraterrestrial sample collections at Johnson, will be available for detailed analysis in the laboratory and available to be requested by scientists around the world for research.
“These samples are complementary to the Apollo collection because they may come from locations on the Moon that we didn’t visit during that program,” said Francis McCubbin, Astromaterials Curator at Johnson. “Studying samples from across the Moon helps to better develop a globally relevant understanding of the thermochemical evolution of the Moon.”
The U.S. ANSMET program is a cooperative effort jointly supported by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office; the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs, which manages the U.S. Antarctic Program; and the Smithsonian Institution, as part of a three-agency agreement signed in 1980 and renewed in 2017.
Antarctic field work logistics are supported by the U.S. Antarctic Program and through a grant from NASA to Case Western Reserve University; initial examination and curation of recovered Antarctic meteorites is supported by NASA at the Astromaterials Curation facilities at Johnson; and initial characterization and long-term curation of Antarctic meteorite samples is supported by NASA and the Smithsonian Institution at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
Details of the initial characterization of the specimen and sample availability are available through a recent edition of the Antarctic Meteorite Newsletter, released on the Web and available to researchers worldwide.