January 9, 2012
Moon Mineral Discovered In Western Australia
An Australian paleontologist has discovered a mineral, long thought to be found only on the moon, in a billion-year-old rock formation in Western Australia.
The mineral, tranquillityite, was first discovered by astronauts visiting the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, where it was scooped up at the Sea of Tranquility and brought back to Earth to be studied. It was one of three minerals collected on the lunar surface, and the only one of the three, that has not been found anywhere on Earth, until now.
The mineral was found by paleontologist Birger Rasmussen, a researcher at Curtin University, reports Jonathan Pearlman for The Telegraph. He said the mineral had “long been considered as the Moon´s own.” However, in a paper published this week in the journal Geology, Rasmussen said the mineral has been found in six sites in Australia -- and could even be ℠widespread.´
Rasmussen told the Sydney Morning Herald, “This was essentially the last mineral which was sort of uniquely lunar.” But the finding is proof positive that these minerals were ℠always´ part of the Earth -- and that similar chemical processes are at work on earth and on the moon.
“This means that basically we have the same chemical phenomena on the Moon and on Earth,” he said.
“In over 40 years it [tranquillityite] hadn't been found in any terrestrial samples,” Rasmussen told the AFP news agency. The reason nobody had found the rocks on Earth for so long, was that “no one was looking hard enough,” he added.
Rasmussen said the discovery has important practical applications, with the mineral proving to be an excellent dating tool which had allowed scientists to measure the rocks´ age. “We used this mineral ... to date the dolerite which has previously been undated, so that helped us understand the geological history.”
The rocks were 1.07 billion years old, more ancient than rocks in the area had previously been thought to be.
Traces of tranquillityite are generally tiny -- roughly 150 micrometers long (less than the diameter of human hair). It is a reddish-brown color and consists mostly of iron, silicon, oxygen, zirconium, titanium and yttrium.
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