Teams of scientists are digging into the Moon again. They’re nowhere near the lunar surface, though. Instead, they’re opening up samples collected by Apollo astronauts that have never been studied.
The astronauts brought back more than 840 pounds of rocks and dirt. Most of those samples have been studied in some way. But a few were held back. Scientists wanted to wait for new instruments and techniques. They started digging in to a few of those samples in late 2019. And they’ll do a few more over the coming months and years.
The first of the new samples is a core tube collected by astronaut Gene Cernan during Apollo 17, the final Apollo mission. Cernan drilled down about two and a half feet, filling the tube with layers of material that had piled up over millions of years. The core was split into two parts. Scientists opened the lower half first.
The new studies have several goals. One is just to learn more about the Moon itself — about how its surface changed over millions of years, for example. Another is to help set goals for new sample-gathering missions in the years ahead. And a third is to evaluate how well the sample storage systems have worked over the past half-century — helping to get ready to dig in to the Moon once again.
Look for the Moon in the east at nightfall, and arcing high across the southern half of the sky during the night. Regulus, the bright heart of Leo, is just a few degrees away.
Script by Damond Benningfield