The team analysed microscopic glass beads up to two billion years old that were located within lunar soil samples brought to Earth by the Chinese National Space Administration’s Chang’e-5 lunar mission.
The beads provide the first compelling evidence that major asteroid impact events on Earth were accompanied by similar large-scale impacts on the surface of the moon.
Findings from the study shed important light on the historical asteroid dynamics of our solar system and will be studied in detail to improve scientists’ ability to predict the likelihood of future impacts.
The glass beads that were at the centre of the research were formed when the asteroids impacted the moon and expelled droplets of molten rock at the area of the impact site.
By analysing the beads in conjunction with the asteroid sites themselves using satellite images and chemical data gathered from the soil samples, researchers were able to learn that the area that included the impact site was “only” two billion years old.
The majority of the moon’s crust is older than two billion years, which made the site an anomaly. On the basaltic plateau, there are over 100,000 impact craters that measure over 100 metres.
Previous research had discovered that the ages of droplets found in samples from different crater sites were uneven. Not only were the ages different between craters, but so too were the number of beads located in each crater, with some craters having little to no beads at all.
The lead author of the study, Professor Alexander Nemchin from Curtin University’s Space Science and Technology Centre said that the research was exciting as it has the potential to shed light on the formation of Earth’s own crust and tell us how asteroid impacts effected it.
“We found that some of the age groups of the lunar glass beads coincide precisely with the ages of some of the largest terrestrial impact crater events, including the Chicxulub impact crater responsible for the dinosaur extinction event.”
Professor Nemchin also explained the team’s methodology for the research.
“We combined a wide range of microscopic analytical techniques, numerical modelling, and geological surveys to determine how these microscopic glass beads from the moon were formed and when,” he said.
“The study also found that large impact events on Earth such as the Chicxulub crater 66 million years ago could have been accompanied by a number of smaller impacts. If this is correct, it suggests that the age frequency distributions of impacts on the moon might provide valuable information about the impacts on the Earth or inner solar system.”
Liam McAneny is a journalist who has written and edited for his University International Relations journal. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (International Relations) and Bachelor of Laws from the University of Wollongong in 2021. He joined Momentum Media in 2022 and currently writes for SpaceConnect and Australian Aviation. Liam has a keen interest in geopolitics and international relations as well as astronomy.
Send Liam an email at: [email protected]
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