The moon may be a dead rock, but NASA’s newest lunar mission holds interest for astrobiologists.
A NASA artist’s conception of LADEE in lunar orbit.
Late Friday night, NASA plans to launch its Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) on a 100-day mission to study dust and gas molecules floating around the moon.
You might not expect it, but this is an important event for astrobiology. Why? Because the moon, particularly icy craters on the moon, function in some ways as the Earth’s attic, storing treasures from our past.
Due to the weathering and churning of Earth’s crust, it’s nearly impossible to find evidence from the time when life originated on our planet more than 3.5 billion years ago. The moon still has plenty of material from that period, however. Asteroid and cometary impacts were common in early Solar System history, and most of the large lunar craters originated billions of years ago.
During that time, whenever a major asteroid hit Earth, it would cause crustal material to be ejected from the planet, some of it containing organic material and perhaps even simple unicellular life. Some of that material may have been re-deposited on the moon, where it would ...