June 2013 Archives

EEAS students study lunar rocks

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From 1969 to 1972, a total of 12 American astronauts walked on the surface of the Moon as part of NASA?s Apollo lunar exploration program. In addition to taking thousands of photos, they brought home with them a total of 841.4 pounds (381.7 kilograms) of lunar rocks and soils from six different sites. Most of these priceless materials are stored at the Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility in Houston. The rest are distributed around the country for research and educational purposes. In April the lunar rocks came to UMass Lowell.

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Over a two week period students in Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Physics had a chance to examine the lunar specimens both as hand specimens and in thin section.

12002 PL (4).jpg12002 XP (4).jpg

Lunar basalt in plane polarized light (l) and in crossed polarizers (r). Width of field of view ~4 mm.

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The enigmatic orange soil from the Apollo 17 mission that so excited astronaut Harrison Schmidt. Plane polarized light. Width of field of view ~4 mm.

Trinitite (a fused sand glass) was formed during the first atomic bomb blast at the Trinity test site in New Mexico. In April, as part of ongoing research on this topic, Dr. Eby and his Los Alamos colleagues spent several days at the Trinity test site collecting specimens.

Following the atomic bomb blast the area immediately surrounding ground zero was covered with a bottle green glassy material (trinitite). To the north of ground zero, where there were overhead copper wires, both green and red trinitite are found. The red color is caused by copper from the wire which was incorporated into the glass.
Trinitite Examples.jpgRecent work has identified small spheres and dumbbell shaped green glass which is distributed over a wide area around ground zero. The material was originally found in the coarse material surrounding anthills, and for this reason has sometimes been referred to as "anthill trinitite". The material is very similar in appearance to tektites which are formed when a meteor impacts the earth causing melting of the country rocks and the splattering of the melted material over a wide area.

BEADS_SITE2_PART_B_HERMES_COLLECTION4,5.jpgAt the microscopic level trinitite is a marvelously complex material consisting of a few partially melted remnant quartz grains and a heterogeneous mixture of glassy material representing melted mineral grains and mixtures of melted grains. This heterogeneity occurs on a 10 to 20 micron scale. Given the high temperatures and short duration of the bomb blast, the material provides insights into disequilibrium melting.

Trin Bead 3.JPGResearch groups interested in tektites are currently studying material from the Trinity site. Because trinitite contains material from the atomic bomb, fission products, and neutron activation products, another active area of research is nuclear forensics. The glass produced by a nuclear explosion can provide information about the type of device that was detonated.

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