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(STFC DTP) Isotopic tracers of geological processing in the lunar regolith

Project Description

The European Space Agency is sending an experiment package called PROSPECT to the Moon on the Luna 27 mission. The mission will analyse soils and determine the abundance and isotopic composition of light elements and noble gases. It is expected that the lander will visit a south polar site, in a region that is made up of feldspathic highlands material. In preparation for this mission, and to understand impact mixing processes in the lunar highlands, this project will investigate volatile elements and noble gases in Apollo 16 soil samples.

The project goals are to determine how the upper portion of the highlands regolith has been disturbed by impact events, when these disturbances occurred, characterise interactions between the Moon and the space environment, and investigate the source(s) of volatiles in the lunar regolith. Findings will provide evidence for the recent impact history of the Moon and the evolution of the regolith, which are both high priority lunar science goals, and will assist in planning activities for the PROSPECT mission Science Team. To meet these objectives the project will investigate the exposure record of Apollo regolith samples (chips and thin sections) using a combination of analytical techniques. Li isotopes will be analysed in situ in selected samples with a range of cosmic-ray exposure ages in order to calibrate a Li isotope cosmic-ray exposure chronometer for the Moon. Noble gases (He, Ne, Ar, Kr, Xe) will be measured in samples from varying depth, providing an independent exposure age record. Additional investigations may include volatile element isotopic analysis (e.g., H, C, N, etc.) using SIMS.

The project will utilise a broad range of analytical facilities such as the scanning electron microscope and electron probe microanalysis instruments, the HELIX mass spectrometer for noble gas analysis, and a new state-of-the-art laser ablation – inductively couple plasma mass spectrometer (LA-ICP-MS) hosted in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (, and the NanoSIMS ion probe hosted in the Department of Materials ( The student will thus be given extensive training in a wide range of mass spectrometric techniques for trace element and noble gas isotope analyses, and their application to lunar and planetary materials.

Please contact and for further information.

The project will suit students with a background in petrology and geochemistry applied to Earth and/or Planetary Sciences, and will provide excellent training and advanced knowledge appropriate for further academic research in isotope geochemistry and planetary science. Students with a background in Physics and/or Chemistry who can demonstrate knowledge and interest in planetary research will also be considered.


Bogard and Hirsch (1976) Noble gases in 60009-60010 drive tube samples - Trapped gases and irradiation history. Proc. Lunar Sci. Conf. 7th, 259-279.
Carpenter et al. (2017) PROSPECT: ESA's Package For Resource Observation And In-Situ Prospecting For Exploration, Commercial Exploitation And Transportation. 48th Lunar Planet. Sci. Conf., Abstract #2514.
Joy et al. (2011). Re-examination of the formation ages of Apollo 16 regolith breccias. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 75, 7208-7225.
Korotev et al. (1997) Lithological variation with depth and decoupling of maturity parameters in Apollo 16 regolith core 68001/2. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 61, 2989-3002.
Lucey et al. (2006) Understanding the lunar surface and Space-Moon interactions. In New Views of the Moon, eds. B. L. Jolliff, M. A. Wieczorek, C. K. Shearer, and C. R. Neal, Rev. Mineral. Geochem. 60, 83-219.

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