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Prof. Ian Crawford awarded Leverhulme Trust research grant to study what the Moon may tell us about the history of the Milky Way

1 April 2015

Close-up of the lunar regolith with astronaut’s boot for scale (credit: NASA)

The new grant, entitled Assessing the potential of lunar geology as a window into galactic history, was awarded to Professor Crawford and colleagues Dr Pieter Vermeesch (UCL) and Dr Katherine Joy (University of Manchester). Dr Louise Alexander, who obtained both her B.Sc. and Ph.D degrees in planetary science from Birkbeck, will be employed as researcher on the project.

The aim is to study how the flux of galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) impacting the lunar surface has changed with time, and to determine if this can be correlated with the Solar System’s past locations in the Galaxy. The ancient surface of the Moon, which is completely lacking in an atmosphere and magnetic field, is potentially an ideal recorder of GCR records.

GCRs strike the lunar surface unhindered, where they induce the formation of a range of cosmogenic isotopes (such as 3He, 21Ne and 38Ar) in lunar rocks and soils. The project team will study the concentrations of these isotopes in a range of lunar materials of different ages (including both Apollo samples and lunar meteorites) in order to determine what they may reveal about the history of the Solar System’s passage through the Galaxy. The study will also help identify locations on the lunar surface where future space missions may be able to collect samples that will reveal details of the galactic environment not covered by the existing lunar sample collection.

The award of this grant now gives us an opportunity to properly assess the value of the lunar geological record for galactic astronomy, which is tremendously exciting. If successful, our project may lay the foundations for a major new scientific field at the boundary of astronomy and planetary science.

Professor Ian Crawford, Birkbeck

For further information about the project, please see the full Birkbeck news article.

  • Image: Close-up of the lunar regolith with astronaut’s boot for scale (credit: NASA)

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