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Physics LibreTexts

5.29 Lunar Surface

Robotic and human exploration of the Moon, particularly during the Apollo era, provided our first views of an alien planetary surface. The insights gleaned were often as surprising as they were spell-binding. The surface of the moon is geologically complex, and it offers a challenging environment for geophysicists to explore through manned space-exploration, robotic missions, and orbiting space probes. Today, a host of missions from nations around the world are gathering data about the lunar surface using cameras that probe the moon in a variety of different electromagnetic wavelengths. Together they allow us to determine both the texture of the lunar surface, and its chemical composition.


Alan Bean carries the ALSEP to the deployment site. Click here for original source URL



In broad terms, the moon has two main components: the dark maria that formed from volcanic activity early in the Moon's history and the light highlands that are the original lunar crust. The maria rock, like most basaltic minerals, is rich in magnesium and iron, while the highlands are composed of calcium- and aluminum-rich feldspar. Both these regions are peppered with craters from asteroid and comet impacts. Over time, the smallest of these impacts have pulverized much of the surface into fine dust and granular material called regolith.

In the diversity of this landscape, geophysicists are discovering a variety of minerals that reflect the Moon's original cooling and solidification, its volcanic past, as well as more violent mineral formation processes associated with asteroid and comet impacts.


This oblique view featuring International Astronomical Union (IAU) Crater 302 on the Moon surface was photographed by the Apollo 10 astronauts in May of 1969. Note the terraced walls of the crater and central cone. Center point coordinates are located at 162 degrees, 2 minutes east longitude and 10 degrees, 1 minute south latitude. One of the Apollo 10 astronauts aimed a handheld 70mm camera at the surface from lunar orbit for a series of pictures in this area. Click here for original source URL.