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Last mineral thought to be unique to the Moon found in Australia

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January 17, 2012

The famous photo of Buzz Aldrin walking on the surface of the Moon during the Apollo 11 mi...

The famous photo of Buzz Aldrin walking on the surface of the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission in which lunar rock samples were collected (Photo: NASA)

When the moon-walking Apollo 11 astronauts returned to Earth in 1969, amongst the 47.5 pounds (21.5 kg) of lunar rocks they brought with them were three minerals from Tranquility Base that were thought to be unique to the Moon or lunar and possibly Martian meteorites. They were armalcolite (named after Neil Armstrong, Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin and Michael Collins), pyroxferroite and tranquillityite. Both armalcolite and pyroxferrite were later found on Earth, leaving tranquillityite as the last mineral believed to have no terrestrial counterpart. Now tranquillityite has also been struck off the list with its discovery in the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia.

The researchers from The University of Western Australia's Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis (CMCA) who confirmed the identity of the Pilbara mineral believe tranquillityite retained its unique status for so long because it is rare, small and prone to change. While the Moon's minerals are pristine due to a lack of water, even small amounts of water in magma on Earth causes the minerals to change, making them hard to identify.

After Curtin University's Professor Birger Rasmussen tentatively identified the Pilbara mineral as tranquillityite after studying it in a scanning electron microscope, the CMCA's Dr Janet Muhling and Assistant Professor Alexandra Suvorova and their colleagues confirmed its identity by targeting the sample with an electron beam in an electron microscope and analyzing the X-rays emitted. This confirmed that the mineral was made up of the same elements as lunar tranquillityite, while electron diffraction showed that the two minerals have the same crystal structure.

The researchers say the Pilbara rocks in which tranquillityite occurs were once thought to have been about 820 million years old. However, with tranquillityite being an ideal mineral for determining the age of the enclosing rock using radiometric dating, Professor Rasmussen and colleagues at the John de Laeter Centre for Isotope Research have now shown that they are about 1,040 million years old.

Source: The University of Western Australia

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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6 Comments

Hmm. This discovery once again lends to the conspiracy theory whether they really landed on the moon

3razer
18th January, 2012 @ 07:21 am PST

@ 3razer: No, not really - it's kinda ridicolous to suggest that the American gov. would have hired geologists to discover three before completely unknown minerals and then keep them secret until the "return" of the astronauts.. don't ya think?

Froden
18th January, 2012 @ 10:24 am PST

Do you take many drugs 3razer? In my experience the only people talking about conspiracy theories with regards to landing on the moon are enjoying far too much hooch and far too much time to make up rubbish.

Vaughan Barton-Johnson
18th January, 2012 @ 05:00 pm PST

Agree with you,Johnson. Can't remember one conspiracy theory in the last 60 years that ever became fact. Religion proves that illusions are easier to believe in than fact. How could there be any different minerals on the moon than earth?

chidrbmt
18th January, 2012 @ 08:49 pm PST

Maybe because the moon is the remnant of a theorized planet name Thera which collided with Earth billions of years ago?

Andy Wilkins
19th January, 2012 @ 03:22 am PST

Well I actually didnt say anything about not being different minerals on the moon chidrbmt. Only commented on the lame conspiracy theory of actually going to the moon. What could possibly make anyone think man hasn't visited the moon?

Vaughan Barton-Johnson
14th September, 2012 @ 02:16 am PDT
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