NASA scientists uncovered a sample of lunar soil brought to Earth 50 years ago

(ORDO NEWS) — On December 13, 1972, Apollo 17 mission commander Eugene Cernan and astronaut Harrison Schmitt, while on the lunar surface, filled two 35 cm long steel tubes with lunar regolith, sealing one of them and placing the other in an ordinary unsealed container. Both samples were returned to Earth.

Now NASA scientists at the Johnson Space Center in Houston are cracking open the first tube that has remained tightly closed all these years.

“The space agency knew that science and technology would evolve and allow scientists to study material in new ways,” said Laurie Gleizes, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

The second unsealed tube of this mission was discovered in 2019. Layers of lunar soil were preserved, and the sample provided insight into phenomena such as landslides in airless places.

Since the sample currently being opened has been sealed, it may contain something other than rocks and soil, such as gas.

The tube may have contained volatile substances that evaporate at normal temperatures, such as water ice and carbon dioxide. The materials at the bottom of the tube were very cold at the time of collection.

The amount of these gases in a sample is expected to be very low, so the scientists use a special device developed by a team at Washington University in St. Louis to extract and collect the gas.

Another tool has been developed at the European Space Agency (ESA). It is designed to puncture the sample and capture gases as they escape. Local scientists called this tool “Apollo’s bottle opener”.

NASA officials report that so far everything is going according to plan: the seal on the inner sample tube appears intact. Now the piercing process is in full swing, and this special “can opener” is ready to catch any gases that may come out of the tube.

State-of-the-art mass spectrometry technologies will be used to identify gases. The gas can also be split into tiny samples for other researchers to study.

“Each gas component analyzed can help tell a different part of the story about the origin and evolution of volatiles on the Moon and in the early solar system,” said Francesca McDonald, project leader at ESA.

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