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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - March 14, 1973, Lethbridge, Alberta March 14, WJ TH! LtTHBRIOOE HERALD 53 LUNAR MYSTERIES SLOWLY BEING SOLVED Apollo space missions have produced harvest of data that may explain long sought-after answers HOUSTON Out of the har- vest of data from the Apollo space missions scientists are now beginning to identify some remarkable patterns of lunar phenomena that could be criti- cal ingredients for the long- sought theories lo explain the origin and evolution of the moon. A seismologist has noticed that moonquakcs nearly always occur along two dislinct By John Wilford of the New York Times on the front side of the Moon and in regular monthly cycles. Another scientist, analyzing lunar photography, is struck by an apparent pattern in the sites of past volcanic eruptions a pattern on the face of the Moon that he calls the "ellipse of fire." A geophysicist, searching for ways to explain magnetism found in lunar rocks in light of the growing evidence that the Moon could not have had its own magnetic field, pictures circumstances in which the Moon, in its earliest history, might have borrowed magnet- ism from swirling solar gases or even from the Earth. And, in what many scientists consider a bold and promising step toward a unifying theory of the Moon's evolution, Dr. John A. Wood of the Smithson- ian Aslrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., is seek- ing lo explain why the moon is an asymmetric body so strikingly different on differ- ent sides. It is one of the moon's most important mys- teries, the solution of which provide a new under- standing of the moon's forma- tive epoch. Advances These were some of the ma- jor advances in thinking about the moon to emerge from Fourth Annual Lunar Science Conference, a four day meet- ing of 700 Apollo scientists. The conference was held here at the Jolmson Space Centre, for- merly the Manned Spacecraft Centre. Evidence of the Moon's asym- metry has grown steadily, ever since a Soviet spacecraft, in 1959, returned the first pictures 'showing the far side of the moon to be rugged highlands almost devoid of the great bas- ins that mark the side of tktc moon that always faces the Earth. Another finding of asymmet- ry is the greater concentra- tions of the distinctive lunar rocks known as Kreep in the northern hemisphere of the front side of the moon. This was discovered from orbit with gamma ray remote sensing instruments on Apollos 15 and 16. Kreep differs from most lunar basin material in that it is enriched in potassium, phos- phorous and the rare earlh ele- ments. A third, and perhaps most important, sign of asymmetry is the fact that the moon's weight is distributed unevenly. Its centre of mass has been found to be about two miles closer to the earth than the moon's actual geometric center. To account for this, Dr. Wood said, the Moon's outer crust, which is believed to be com- posed of lower density mater- ial than the interior, must be about twice as thick on the far side as on the near side. Asymmetry "Nobody has really worried about Wood said in an interview, explaining why he undertook the first theore- tical study of the problem. "It's really a very important problem, and the time is past when we can deal in general- ities and'dismiss asymmetry." One possible explanation, he said, Is that the Moon "just formed that way in the first place" perhaps when a num- ber of large moonlcts with dif- fering chemistries and densi- ties came together to form the moon and never homogenized. But Wood, in his study thus far, is pursuing the idea that the moon probably formed rath- er evenly but then underwent "processes that might have op- erated In particu- lar, he has in mind the way the moon has been bombarded by meteorites and other space de- bris. Larger As a model of what might have happened, Wood assumes that the moon was already locked in a position of one siue always being oriented toward the Earth and that the Earth and the Moon were once much closer together. This is a wide- ly held belief, based on the fact that the Moon is receding from the earth at a rate of one centi- meter a year. The Earth, being a much lar- ger body with greater gravita- tional force, would attract many of the meteorites hurt- ling by and bend their flight paths. Some would hit the earth, but many others more than in the normal course of events would strike the moon on its leading edge, the side facing forward In the line of the Moon's orbital path. According to Wood's idea, the heavy bombardment churned up the lunar dust, redistribut- ed surface material and, as a result, shifted the whole bal- ance of mass in the Moon. Most scientists agree that for the first 700 million years the moon underwent tremendous, bom- bardment, often on a "cataclys- mic" scale. This could have caused the centre of mass and the geomet- ric centre of the moon to di- verge and could have eventual- ly caused the moon i? twist into a new position the heavily bombarded leading edge be- coming the centre of what is now the moon's near side. This would account for the great ba- sins, gouged out by impacts, being concentrated on the near side of the moon. Concerned Wood conceded that there is still much computer analysis to be done on his idea. Calcula- tions thus far indicate that early bombardment of the moon could have produced a "systematic thickening and thinning of the crust in certain It will take further computer calculations, Wood said, to es- tablish exactly what effect the bomb a r d m e n t and crustal changes could have had theore- tically in the moon into a new position; The moon's "ellipse of fire" was described at the confer- ence by Dr. Farouk El-Daz, head of the department of lu- nar and planetary science at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Volcano El-Baz noted that the 12 dis- tinct areas of dark lunar soil, presumed to be the result of past volcanic activity, are dis- tributed "in an ellipsoidal-shap- ed region on the near side of the moon stretching from 20 degrees west to 70 degrees cast and from about 22 north to about 15 south" or from the Copernicus Crater in the west to the sea of crises in the east. In an 'interview, El-Baz said that the dark mantles, usually only a few feet deep, occurred primarily along the line of the ellipse and rarely elsewhere on the moon. Volcanism is thought to have been prevalent on the moon prior to three hillion years ago, but an apparently rare occurrence since then. El-Baz suggested that the ap- parent volcanic ellipse may be associated with the moon's asymmetry, particularly the fact that it coincides with a relatively depressed area of the lunar face where molten lava would have the least distance to travel from Interior cham- bers to the surface. One of the surprises of Apol- lo, and a source of puzzlement, was the discovery of remnant magnitism in lunar rocks, de- spite the fact that the moon has no magnetic field and may never have generated one of its own. Dynamo The Earth's magnetic field Is generated by rotational forces making a dynamo out of its molten core. It, as most scien- tists now believe, the moon's interior was cold anrt solid in the beginning and is probably only partially molten now, how could the Moon have ever had a magnetic field? Dr. David W. Strangway, chief of the geophysical branch at the Johnson Space 'centre, considered the question and came up with two possible an- The first and more likely ex-' planatlon, Strangway said, re- quires that a swirling cloud of hot solar gases passed the moon during the early stages of the solar system's evolution. Far-out saloon s an action spot By MURRAY OLDERMAN SAN FRANCISCO