Plans to start mining the Moon as early as 2025 became more attractive this week after a US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) team found evidence that the Earth’s natural satellite may, underneath its surface, be richer in metals than previously thought. Using data from the Miniature Radio Frequency (Mini-RF) instrument onboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), a team of researchers came to the conclusion that the lunar subsurface contains a higher concentration of certain metals, such as iron and titanium, than estimated.
The study, published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, contends the most popular theory surrounding the Moon’s origins. The hypothesis contends the satellite was formed when a Mars-sized object collided with Earth, vaporizing large portions of the Earth’s upper crust.
“By improving our understanding of how much metal the moon’s subsurface actually has, scientists can constrain the ambiguities about how it has formed, how it is evolving and how it is contributing to maintaining habitability on Earth,” lead study author Essam Heggy said in a statement.
The evidence was discovered while the scientists were looking for ice at the bottom of craters in the lunar north pole region, NASA said. It means that fine dust found at the base of those holes are parts of the deeper layers of the Moon, ejected during meteor impacts. As such, this dust represents the composition in deeper Moon layers.
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The researchers found a pattern in which larger and deeper craters have higher metal concentrations than smaller and shallower ones. Specifically, in craters approximately 1 to 3 miles wide, the dielectric constant or electrical property increased along with crater size. However, the electrical property remained constant for craters between three to 12 miles wide.
Order to mine
US President Donald Trump signed an order in April encouraging citizens to mine the Moon and other celestial bodies with commercial purposes.
The directive classifies outer space as a “legally and physically unique domain of human activity” instead of a “global commons,” paving the way for mining the moon without any sort of international treaty.
“Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space,” the document states, noting that the US had never signed a 1979 accord known as the Moon Treaty. This agreement stipulates that any activities in space should conform to international law.
Russia’s space agency Roscosmos quickly condemned Trump’s move, likening it to colonialism.
“There have already been examples in history when one country decided to start seizing territories in its interest — everyone remembers what came of it,” Roscosmos’ deputy general director for international cooperation, Sergey Saveliev, said.
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Read More: Moon Mining Could Begin As Early As 2025