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(STFC DTP) Sources and processing of volatiles in the highlands lunar regolith

Project Description


Apollo 16, the fifth of six manned missions that landed on the Moon (8.59°S, 15.30°E), returned rocks and soils from the central nearside Descartes Mountains and Cayley Plains Formations. Returned samples have provided key insights into (i) the formation of ancient lunar primary crust ~4.5 Ga ago, (ii) the composition, stratigraphy and impact modification of the nearside crust, and (iii) the structure and history of the lunar regolith. Several cores were collected during Apollo 16 that allows stratigraphic sampling down to depths of tens of cm into the lunar regolith. These cores consist of different geological units dominated by lunar highlands material. Some of this material may have been emplaced by the young South Ray crater at the southern extent of the landing site, and some has been reworked from Imbrium impact basin ejecta. Several of the cores are poorly studied with only a few previous geochemistry, petrography and isotopic age studies.

Project summary

This project will investigate the exposure record of the Apollo 16 drive cores and other surficial regolith samples using a combination of analytical techniques. The project goals are to determine how the upper portion of the highlands regolith has been disturbed by different impact events, when these disturbances occurred, and characterise interactions between the Moon and the space environment. 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.

Polished sections and chips for 25 samples sampling different depths across four Apollo 16 drive cores have just been loaned to us by NASA and are available for study. The noble gases helium, neon, argon, krypton and xenon will be measured in bulk soil samples of varying depth and grain size. Li isotopes will also be analysed by secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) 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. Additional investigations may include volatile element isotopic analysis (e.g., H, N, etc.).Results obtained throughout this project will provide input to the planned Luna 27 mission, to which the European Space Agency will provide the PROSPECT experiment that will drill into the lunar regolith and analyse the abundance and isotopic compositions of volatiles and noble gases at different depths.

The project will suit students with a background in 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. The project will utilise a broad range of analytical facilities such as the scanning electron microscope and electron probe microanalysis instruments, and the HELIX mass spectrometer for noble gas analysis, all hosted in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences in Manchester, and the NanoSIMS ion probe hosted in the School of Materials in Manchester. 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 for further information.


Background Reading
Bogard, D.D. and Hirsch, W.C. (1976) Noble gases in 60009-60010 drive tube samples - Trapped gases and irradiation history. Proc. Lunar Sci. Conf. 7th, 259-279.
Carpenter J.D., Fisackerly R., the ESA Lunar Exploration Team, the PROSPECT User Group and the PROSPECT industrial team (2017) PROSPECT: ESA's Package For Resource Observation And In-SituProspecting For Exploration, Commercial Exploitation And Transportation. 48th Lunar Planet. Sci. Conf.
Abstract #2514.
Joy K.H., Kring D.A., Bogard D.D., McKay D.S. and Zolensky M.E. (2011). Re-examination of the formation ages of Apollo 16 regolith breccias. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 75, 7208-7225.
Korotev R.L. 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 P., Korotev R.L., Gillis J.J., Taylor L.A., Lawrence D., Campbell B.A., Elphic R., Feldmann B., Hood L.L., Hunten D., Mendillo M., Noble S., Papike J J., Reedy R.C., Lawson S., Prettyman T., Gasault O. and Maurice S. (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.
Pepin et al. (1975) Rare gases and Ca, Sr and Ba in Apollo 17 drill core fines. Proc. 6th Lunar Sci. Conf. 2027-2056.
Stephant and Robert (2014) The negligible chondritic contribution in the lunar soils water. PNAS 111,15007-15012.
Thiemens and Clayton (1980) Solar and cosmogenic nitrogen in the Apollo 17 deep drill core. Proc. 11th Lunar Planet. Sci. Conf. 1435-1451.
Wieler R. and Heber V. (2003) Noble gas isotopes on the Moon. Space Sci. Rev. 106, 197-210.

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