Moon Contains Huge Amounts of Valuable Titanium, Suggests NASA Probe Survey

Forget cheese, the moon is really made put of Titanium. In a joint meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress and the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences, the result of the study by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) was published. This is not a huge surprise since Russian Luna missions had already informed us that there are many titanium ore rich areas on the Moon.

This is a mosaic made by stitching together nearly 4000 images taken by the LRO over one month. (Courtesy: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Centre/Arizona State University)

Detecting Titanium

The presence of ilmenite (Ferrous Titanium Oxide FeTiO3  ) can be detected by considering the reflection of light from the surface. Ilmenite has a shiny metallic look along with a brown-pinkish tinge. It also exhibits pleochroism, which means that it has a different color when looked at from different angles.

Pleochroism as shown by Muscovite crystals. Notice the different coloration at different angles (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Many wavelengths all to see the Moon better with

The LRO photographed the moon in seven different wavelengths, including ultraviolet (UV). The effects of weathering on craters show up in much more pronounced detail when viewed in UV. By comparing the reflectance of the Moon’s surface to different wavelengths of light, the LRO can pick out the regions rich in ilmenite.

Anything in it for us? You bet!

This huge abundance of titanium amongst metals (about 10%) on the moon is extremely puzzling, since less than 1% of Earth’s metals is titanium or its compound. This finding will go a long way in understanding the evolution of the moon.

Ilmenite is mined on Earth for titanium. If there is a Lunar Base in the near future, titanium would prove invaluable for building it.

We’re indeed just beginning to understand out nearest celestial neighbor.

Published by

Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.