High School Team Tackles Lunar Mystery

Members of the 2011-12 Lunar Exploration Team: L-R Abby Delawder, Tori Wilson, and Austen Beason

When the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter relayed images in 2011 of oddly striped boulders on the moon - some of them a dozen or more meters across - three students at Kickapoo High School in Springfield, Missouri, in search of a class science project decided to investigate. They joined a 2-semester research program through the SSERVI's Center for Lunar Science and Exploration in Houston, Texas.

With mentor Georgiana Kramer, a planetary scientist there, the team has now netted a scientific paper. The Kickapoo Lunar Research Team spent several months trying to explain the stripes. Researchers had already floated several possibilities.

Kramer suspected that the light-colored layers were probably regolith, material blasted from impact craters elsewhere on the moon. But the students found that such debris accumulates much too slowly to account for the banding. Through their calculations, they arrived at a new explanation: The striping formed as molten material cooled deep within the moon's crust. "I was surprised at the answer they came up with," Kramer says. But the team has support for the theory: Some banded rocks on Earth form by a similar process, says team member Abby Delawder. "These banded rocks are nothing like any other rocks found on the moon's surface," she notes. "It's clear they were blasted upward by an impact."

Unlike the average high school project, this one appeared among graduate student posters at NASA's annual Lunar Science Institute Forum in Mountain View, California, in 2012 and will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Icarus.

Posted by: Soderman/SSERVI Staff Source: SSERVI Team/ Ref: SCIENCE, VOL 342, DECEMBER 6 2013

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