The Best Gift of All: A Box of Moon Soil

December 23, 2019
CreditJames Tralie, Lonnie Shekhtman, Molly Wasser 
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Astrochemist Jamie Elsila, at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, unwraps pristine Moon soil. Apollo 17 astronauts collected it in 1972 by driving tubes down to 10.6 inches (27 centimeters) below the Moon’s surface and pulling out soil that they vacuum-sealed inside the tube right on the Moon. That tube has never been opened … until recently.

In this video, Elsila and her colleague, NASA Goddard planetary scientists Danielle Simkus, are preparing two grams of Moon soil, which is called regolith, for analysis in their lab, the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory at Goddard. Besides Moon soil, the scientists are also preparing lab-made Earth soil that will serve as a control in their experiments, helping increase the reliability of the results.

The soils are first crushed with a mortar and pestle and transferred to glass capsules. Then, scientists add water, flame-seal the capsules, and cook them in a special oven to extract organic compounds. Over the next few months, they will study the extracted compounds to shed light on the primordial chemistry of the solar system.