Learn about Moon rocks
The video below explains how to view Moon rocks under a Virtual Microscope and what we can discover.
My name is Mahesh Anand and I investigate Moon rocks collected by the Apollo astronauts. These Moon rocks are on loan from NASA for our research - which as you can see - we keep safe and sound.
They may look tiny, but these precious fragments reveal a fascinating geological history of the Moon - stretching all the way back to when it was formed around 4 and a half billion years ago.
We’re able to unlock its secrets by cutting it up into very thin slices - which you can see in great detail under this virtual microscope - which you can click onto at the end of the video.
It is a very intuitive tool so please experiment with it. These are three little boxes here that allow you to see the slice three different lighting conditions. Clicking on the box XPL shows a diagnostic set of colours so that we can tell what minerals the rock contains and what kind of textures they have.
If you click of ‘REF’ box you can see one of the most common minerals found in lunar rocks called ilmenite.
We can also see that we are looking at a volcanic rock and these crazy patterns of minerals suggest it was formed through a cooling lava.
Crucially, this rock also contains minerals with water in them but we need a far more powerful microscope to identify exactly what they are.
Finding of evidence of water in Moon rocks is very exciting because it allows us to gain knowledge about where water comes from in the Solar System. It also opens up the possibility of extracting water from lunar rocks.
And one reason why we can explore these fundamental questions is in large part due to these wonderful tiny fragments.
How to use the Virtual Microscope
Click on the options below to learn how you can examine the Moon rocks from the first Moon landing.
Zooming in and out
You can magnify the microscope image by using the slider at the bottom of the screen (shown to the right); by double clicking with a mouse or touchscreen; or by using the pinch–zoom on a touchscreen.
You can also move around the sample by clicking on the image and dragging it.
Lighting conditions - PPL, XPL and REF
Click on the boxes at bottom left of the screen (shown to the right) to view the samples under three different lighting conditions:
1. Plane polarised light (PPL – light vibrating along a single plane)
2. Between crossed polars (XPL – the light emerging from the minerals is forced to vibrate along a perpendicular direction to that in PPL)
3. Reflected light (REF – when light is simply reflected off the surface of the thin section. This is particularly useful to study minerals that do not allow light to pass through, such as ilmenite and sulphides in lunar samples).
Click on a hot spot, like the one illustrated to see two circular views, one in PPL and the other in XPL. The views can be rotated by clicking on either image and dragging in a circular movement. The ability to rotate a thin section of Moon rock, helps us identify the minerals in it.
Click on the measure tool box at the bottom right of the screen (shown in the image to the right) to determine the dimensions of any mineral or feature in the Moon rock sample.
When the measure box is ticked, click at one end of the mineral or feature to be measured and drag to the alternate end. Please note, when the measure box is ticked the pan and zoom features are disabled. To deactivate the measure tool, click on the measure box again.
Moon rocks from Apollo 11
Sample 10044 is a grey-white, medium to coarse grained ilmenite basalt. It is roughly 3.7 billion years old and weighs 248 grams, which is equivalent to a standard A4 magazine. View the Virtual Microscope of 10044.
This Moon rock is a variety of fine-grained ilmenite rich basalt. It is rounded and covered with micrometeorite craters. It crystallised 3.77 billion years ago and had been exposed at the surface for around 130 million years. View the Virtual Microscope of 10020.
This Moon rock is 3.7 billion years old and has a distinctive cracking pattern. View the Virtual Microscope of 10058.
Sample 10072 is a fine-grained vesicular basalt containing metallic iron and glass which crystallised 3.6 billion years ago. View the Virtual Microscope of 10072.
Sample 10063 contains a range of yellowish and orange glass fragments. You can see an orange glass bead in Rotation 1. The sample weighed 148 grams before analysis and has not been age dated. View the Virtual Microscope of 10063.
Sample 10046 is held together by a matrix of glass formed during a large meteorite impact. View the Virtual Microscope of 10046.
View more Moon Rocks
To explore more Virtual Microscopes of Moon rocks, visit The Apollo Virtual Microscope collection.
Watch our videos on the Moon