Moon rock now on display

by Ursula
Publish date
19 June 2012
Comments (7)

Ursula Smith works in the natural sciences collections at Museum Victoria. Though a palaeontologist by training she finds all the collections fascinating and swings between excitement at all the cool stuff in them and despair at the lack of time to look at it all.

Museums make it possible to see specimens from faraway places that you won't get the chance to visit yourself. And it doesn't get much further away than the Moon – a piece of which we've received on long-term loan from NASA for display in Dynamic Earth. It was installed just this morning.

Moon rock Moon rock in its protective glass case, now on display in Dynamic Earth. Behind it is the exhibition's Moon model.
Source: Museum Victoria

It's a small piece cut from a larger rock, lunar rock 15555, dubbed 'The Great Scott' after Commander David Scott who collected it during the Apollo 15 Lunar Mission in July 1971. Its specially-built glass case is filled with nitrogen to protect the rock from Earth's atmosphere.

Moon rock is incredibly rare - we have not quite 800kg in total on Earth, which is lighter than an average family car. It's also incredibly important because of what it can tell us about the Moon's formation.

The Great Scott is a basalt formed from a volcanic eruption. It's similar to basalts found on Earth, being composed of silicate minerals such as olivine, pyroxene and plagioclase, except that basalts from the Moon lack water.

Great Scott moon rock Apollo 15555, 'The Great Scott'. The dent in the centre of the visible surface is a "zap pit" - a hole caused by the impact of a micro-meteorite.
Source: NASA

The Great Scott is 3.3 billion years old and has been sitting on the surface of the Moon for 80 million years, since long before the dinosaurs went extinct! We can tell this by measuring how long its minerals have been exposed to cosmic radiation. The rock still looks amazingly fresh because the Moon has no atmosphere, meaning very little weathering has occurred.

Apollo 15 was the fourth of the Apollo missions to land on the Moon and the first to involve significant geological training for the crew. 

Three men in space suits The Apollo 15 Crew standing in front of the Lunar Rover: Cmd. David Scott, CMP Wolden, LMP Irwin.
Source: NASA

The landing site for Apollo 15, Mare Imbrium, was selected specifically to allow investigation of three different landscape features: a mare basin, a mountain front and a lunar rille. Mare Imbrium is so large that it's visible to the naked eye from Earth. It was hoped that Apollo 15 would be able to collect Pre-Imbrian material – rock exposed or thrown out by the impact that formed the enormous crater.

  The Moon showing Mare Imbrium. The Moon showing Mare Imbrium.
Source: Wikipedia

Another of the primary goals of the Apollo 15 mission was an examination of Hadley Rille, a channel-like depression in the lunar surface. During their three-day stay on the Moon, Scott and Irwin traversed over 28km in the lunar rover – the first time a vehicle had been driven on the Moon's surface.

At Hadley Rille they collected a large proportion of the rocks that were brought back to Earth, including Apollo 15555. Weighing 9.6kg on Earth, the rock weighed only 1.6kg on the Moon so it was easy to carry.

Moon rock in situ on the Moon Apollo 15555 prior to Commander Scott collecting it. The tripod structure is a gnomon used to indicate the direction and elevation of the sun.
Source: NASA (Image AS15-82-11164)

NASA distributed rock from the Apollo missions to researchers around the world for study, including Museum Victoria Honorary Associate Professor John Lovering. At the time of the Apollo program he was the Head of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

Professor Lovering carried out some of the very first chemical analyses of the Moon rock from Apollo 11 and 12, and discovered a new mineral, tranquillityite, which has since been found on Earth – from six localities in Pilbara, Western Australia – as well as from rocks from every Apollo mission and a lunar meteorite.

Man and vehicle on the Moon LMP Irwin and the Lunar Rover, taken by Cmd. Scott
Source: NASA (Image A515-86-11603)


Infosheet: The Moon

MV Blog: Distant Moon

Apollo Lunar Surface Journal

Lovering, J. F. et al (1971). Tranquillityite: A new silicate mineral from Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 basaltic rocks. Proceedings of the Lunar Science Conference 2: 39–45.

MV Blog: Murchison meteorite

Comments (7)

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Erich Fitzgerald 20 June, 2012 12:28
Outstanding! This has to be one of the more profoundly stirring specimens on display at the museum: one rock sample to place all else in cosmic perspective.
Mirah 20 June, 2012 12:38
My son headed off to do show-and-tell today in his Prep class with his astronaught in moon buggy figurine and Apollo model. I can't wait to show him this post and bring him in to see the moon rock!
Ange Kenos 24 June, 2012 12:28
To those who brought it to Melbourne, are you aware of the Victorian Space Science Education Centre at Strathmore? The ONLY such facility below the equator.
Andrew Douglas 26 August, 2012 20:59
I saw the moon rocks in 1969/70 at the Melbourne Museum, just after the first landing. I was 9 years of age and got in a short cue to see them. It seemed very profound at the time. Raising my glass to the museum!
Conference facilities in NSW 6 September, 2012 08:55
Thanks for sharing this great article, I really enjoyed the insign you bring to the topic, awesome stuff!
Affelia 11 January, 2014 20:30
Hi, Great article. But "Weighing 9.6kg on Earth, the rock weighed only 1.6kg on the Moon so it was easy to carry" is technically not correct. Yes the rocks would weigh more on Earth because it has a stronger gravitational field. But weight is measured in Newtons. kg measures mass, and mass stays the same where ever you are.
Howard Groffman 3 January, 2016 12:17
I did not know Australia had a Moon Rock on display. Next time I am in Melbourne it is on my to do list.
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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.