Scientists Discover Moon-Like Mineral in Western Australia
By Erik Pineda | January 6, 2012 1:24 PM EST
Australian scientists revealed Thursday the discovery of a mineral that was first thought could only be found on Earth's nearest space neighbour, the moon.
The mineral was long ago christened tranquillityite and was first tinkered with back in 1969, when the U.S. lunar landing mission Apollo 11 brought mineral samples from the moon's Sea of Tranquillity for scientists to study, according to Agence France-Presse.
As part of the three minerals collected by American astronauts and made available to scientists for research, tranquillityite was then regarded as a unique lunar material with traces unavailable here on Earth, according to Birger Rasmussen of Curtin University in Australia.
For more than four decades since the mineral was first handled by man, tranquillityite indeed proved elusive until a Western Australia location yielded rock samples that bear the same material, Rasmussen said.
Initial study made on the Australian find, Rasmussen added, had indicated that tranquillityite has been resting on Earth's surface all this time, for billions of years.
Tranquillityite's discovery in Australian can be termed accidental, Rasmussen said, making it more significant for scientists, who long assumed that the mineral was held only on the moon's surface.
"In over 40 years it hadn't been found in any terrestrial samples," Rasmussen declared in his report published this week by the Geology journal.
He also noted that tranquillityite derived its name from the spot where Apollo 11's landing craft was rested during its lunar mission, then known as the Sea of Tranquility.
As expected, scientists at the time of its discovery scrambled to study tranquillityite and understand its composition further, awed by the thought that they were trying to grasp something completely alien to man.
It turned out that the mineral always was part of Earth, and man can definitely get hold of them without the need of any space mission.
While it is too early to tell if the mineral will prove to be of any value aside from scientific purposes, its biggest value so far is providing clues on the "similar chemistries and similar processes operating on the moon as on Earth," Rasmussen's report said.
Its most important usage for now, Rasmussen said, is acting as a dating tool, which was the precise function employed by Rasmussen's team in determining their find's actual age - about 1.07 billion years old.
Compared to other materials also found on the six WA locations where tranquillityite was found, the mineral came out as the most ancient and it's likely that more of it can be found within the immediate areas of discovery, Rasmussen said.
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