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Moon rocks on Earth come from three sources: those collected by the United States Apollo program manned lunar landings from to ; samples returned by three Soviet Luna programme unmanned probes in the s; and rocks that were ejected naturally from the lunar surface before falling to Earth as lunar meteorites. The Soviet Union attempted, but failed to make manned lunar landings in the s, but they succeeded in landing three robotic Luna spacecraft with the capability to collect and return small samples to Earth.

A combined total of less than half a kilogram of material was returned. Rocks from the Moon have been measured by radiometric dating techniques. They range in age from about 3.

Moon Rock | AMNH

In contrast, the oldest ages of rocks from the Earth are between 3. Moon rocks fall into two main categories: those found in the lunar highlands terrae , and those in the maria. The terrae consist dominantly of mafic plutonic rocks. Regolith breccias with similar protoliths are also common.

Mare basalts come in three distinct series in direct relation to their titanium content: high-Ti basalts , low-Ti basalts , and Very Low-Ti VLT basalts. Almost all lunar rocks are depleted in volatiles and are completely lacking in hydrated minerals common in Earth rocks.


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In some regards, lunar rocks are closely related to Earth's rocks in their isotopic composition of the element oxygen. The Apollo moon rocks were collected using a variety of tools, including hammers , rakes , scoops , tongs , and core tubes. Most were photographed prior to collection to record the condition in which they were found. They were placed inside sample bags and then a Special Environmental Sample Container for return to the Earth to protect them from contamination.

In contrast to the Earth, large portions of the lunar crust appear to be composed of rocks with high concentrations of the mineral anorthite. The mare basalts have relatively high iron values.

What the Apollo Moon rocks told us

Furthermore, some of the mare basalts have very high levels of titanium in the form of ilmenite. Primary igneous rocks in the lunar highlands compose three distinct groups: the ferroan anorthosite suite, the magnesian suite, and the alkali suite. Lunar breccias, formed largely by the immense basin-forming impacts, are dominantly composed of highland lithologies because most mare basalts post-date basin formation and largely fill these impact basins. Mare basalts are named as such because they frequently constitute large portions of the lunar maria.

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These typically contain percent FeO by weight, and percent TiO 2. They are similar to terrestrial basalts, but have many important differences; for example, mare basalts show a large negative europium anomaly. The type location is Mare Crisium sampled by Luna Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Most of the rocks are stored in nitrogen to keep them free of moisture. They are handled only indirectly, using special tools. Moon rocks collected during the course of lunar exploration are currently considered priceless. In , a safe was stolen from the Lunar Sample Building that contained minute samples of lunar and Martian material.

Naturally transported Moon rocks in the form of lunar meteorites are sold and traded among private collectors. Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt picked up a rock "composed of many fragments, of many sizes, and many shapes, probably from all parts of the Moon". This rock was later labeled sample NASA is incredibly strict regarding who is allowed to use the samples, and how much each group receives. A total of nine requests have been approved by NASA thus far, and each group will receive a very specific amount of material to conduct the work they each proposed.

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  • They're practising with mock-up equipment and pretend lunar dirt. Compared with Apollo-era tech, today's science instruments are much more sensitive, Mr Zeigler noted. So it was really good planning on their part to wait," he said. The lunar sample lab has two side-by-side vaults, one for rocks still in straight-from-the-moon condition and a smaller vault for samples previously loaned out for study.

    About 70 per cent of the original haul is in the pristine sample vault, which has two combinations and takes two people to unlock. About 15 per cent is in safekeeping at White Sands in New Mexico. The rest is used for research or display.

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    Of the six manned moon landings, Apollo 11 yielded the fewest lunar samples: 22 kilograms' worth. Mr Armstrong was the primary rock collector and photographer. Mr Aldrin gathered two core samples just beneath the surface during the two-and-a-half-hour moonwalk.

    All five subsequent Apollo moon landings had longer stays. The last three — Apollo 15, 16 and 17 — had rovers that significantly upped the sample collection and coverage area. By studying the Apollo moon rocks, Mr Zeigler said scientists had determined the ages of the surfaces of Mars and Mercury, and established that Jupiter and the solar system's other big outer planets likely formed closer to the sun and later migrated outward. The total Apollo inventory now exceeds , samples; some of the original 2, were broken into smaller pieces for study.

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