Did Earth hide some of its treasure on the Moon?

Last week I wrote about how the Moon—Earth’s attic—has uniquely preserved fossils of Earth’s first life in pristine form. I say uniquely because Earth’s geological activity has destroyed those fossils while other solar system sites, such as Mars and Venus, have received far too low a delivery of Earth soil (through meteoroid transfer) to reveal any fossils.

A paper has been published in Science Advances establishing that yet more scientific treasure from Earth has been preserved on the Moon’s surface for us to discover.1 That treasure is hematite—a reddish-brown to black mineral that often comes in crystal form. Learning how hematite got to the Moon will help scientists know what Earth’s atmosphere has looked like over its history—a find that I believe will reveal a Creator’s guiding hand.

Hematite is an iron oxide mineral (with the formula Fe2O3) and a common oxidation product on Earth, where it is abundant on the surface. It is the main ore harvested from iron mines. Hematite’s abundance stems from the enormous quantity of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere and the amount of iron in Earth’s crust.

Most of us were taught that the Moon has no atmosphere (gaseous envelope). It is true that the Moon’s gravity is too weak to retain light molecular weight gases and the Sun’s ultraviolet and X-ray radiation that falls on the lunar surface is too intense for the heavier molecular weight oxide gases to survive. However, the Moon does retain a very thin atmosphere of mostly argon gas and smaller amounts of xenon and radon gases. These gases are the end products of heavy radioisotopes’ decay. The gases are heavy enough for the Moon’s gravity to retain them and, being inert elements, they are immune to decomposition by solar radiation.

How Did Hematite Get to the Moon?
The lack of oxygen or oxides in the Moon’s atmosphere implies that any hematite on the lunar surface cannot be indigenous. It must have been deposited there from other solar system bodies.

In the Science Advances paper, a team of seven American planetary astronomers led by Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii analyzed the Moon Mineralogy Mapper data. They found that hematite is present at high latitudes on the Moon and mostly associated with east- and equator-facing sides of craters, mountains, and hills. Also, hematite is much more prevalent on the lunar hemisphere facing Earth than on the opposite hemisphere. The locations and quantity of hematite found on the Moon imply that oxygen delivered from Earth’s atmosphere is the major oxidant that forms hematite on the Moon.

Lunar hematite presents physicists and chemists interested in a detailed history of the composition of Earth’s atmosphere with an exciting opportunity. In my book Improbable Planet I presented the best available data on the composition history of Earth’s atmosphere.2 However, with respect to oxygen there are long stretches of time, particularly during the boring billion, where there’s great uncertainty on the amount and variability of oxygen content in Earth’s atmosphere.

Treasure-Hunting Implications
Planetary scientists can send spacecraft to hematite-rich regions of the Moon to bring back samples for analysis. Oxygen isotope and age-dating measurements in those samples will, for the first time, provide atmospheric physicists and chemists with an accurate history of the oxygen content in Earth’s atmosphere throughout the entire 3.8-billion-year history of life on our planet.

As I described in Improbable Planet and in a previous article, what we already know about the oxygen history of Earth’s atmosphere has affirmed God’s miraculous hand in shaping the physical, chemical, and biological history of Earth in preparation for human beings and civilization. I am persuaded that an accurate, detailed oxygen history of Earth’s atmosphere will yield even more evidence for God’s miraculous handiwork. Let’s retrieve the hematite treasure from Earth’s attic!

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

  1. Shuai Li et al., “Widespread Hematite at High Latitudes of the Moon,” Science Advances 6, no. 36 (September 2, 2020): id. eaba1940, doi:10.1126/sciadv.aba1940.
  2. Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016), 94–197, https://shop.reasons.org/category/format/books/improbable-planet.


About The Author

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. I also am eager to equip Christians to engage, rather than withdraw from or attack, educated non-Christians. One of the approaches I’ve developed, with the help of my RTB colleagues, is a biblical creation model that is testable, falsifiable, and predictive. I enjoy constructively integrating all 66 books of the Bible with all the science disciplines as a way to discover and apply deeper truths. 1 Peter 3:15–16 sets my ministry goal, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience." Hugh Ross launched his career at age seven when he went to the library to find out why stars are hot. Physics and astronomy captured his curiosity and never let go. At age seventeen he became the youngest person ever to serve as director of observations for Vancouver's Royal Astronomical Society. With the help of a provincial scholarship and a National Research Council (NRC) of Canada fellowship, he completed his undergraduate degree in physics (University of British Columbia) and graduate degrees in astronomy (University of Toronto). The NRC also sent him to the United States for postdoctoral studies. At Caltech he researched quasi-stellar objects, or "quasars," some of the most distant and ancient objects in the universe. Not all of Hugh's discoveries involved astrophysics. Prompted by curiosity, he studied the world’s religions and "holy books" and found only one book that proved scientifically and historically accurate: the Bible. Hugh started at religious "ground zero" and through scientific and historical reality-testing became convinced that the Bible is truly the Word of God! When he went on to describe for others his journey to faith in Jesus Christ, he was surprised to discover how many people believed or disbelieved without checking the evidence. Hugh's unshakable confidence that God's revelations in Scripture and nature do not, will not, and cannot contradict became his unique message. Wholeheartedly encouraged by family and friends, communicating that message as broadly and clearly as possible became his mission. Thus, in 1986, he founded science-faith think tank Reasons to Believe (RTB). He and his colleagues at RTB keep tabs on the frontiers of research to share with scientists and nonscientists alike the thrilling news of what's being discovered and how it connects with biblical theology. In this realm, he has written many books, including: The Fingerprint of God, The Creator and the Cosmos, Beyond the Cosmos, A Matter of Days, Creation as Science, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, and More Than a Theory. Between writing books and articles, recording podcasts, and taking interviews, Hugh travels the world challenging students and faculty, churches and professional groups, to consider what they believe and why. He presents a persuasive case for Christianity without applying pressure. Because he treats people's questions and comments with respect, he is in great demand as a speaker and as a talk-radio and television guest. Having grown up amid the splendor of Canada's mountains, wildlife, and waterways, Hugh loves the outdoors. Hiking, trail running, and photography are among his favorite recreational pursuits - in addition to stargazing. Hugh lives in Southern California with his wife, Kathy, and two sons.

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