Moon dust, scaled in plastic bottles, has arrived at Harvard from NASA's Lunar Receiving Laboratory in Houston.
Four researchers here have started or will soon begin detailed analysis of the lunar soil collected on last July's Apollo 11 mission. Their research will provide a much clearer picture of lunar surface geology and a possible answer to the question of life on the moon.
The four research groups are headed by Elso S. Barghoorn, professor of Botany, Edward L. Fireman, lecturer on Astronomy, Clifford Frondel, professor of Minerology, and John A. Wood, associate of the Harvard College Observatory.
From a distance, the lunar soil samples look like light coal dust, but "half or more of the loose stuff is broken-up shards of glass," Frondel said yesterday. Individual pieces are actually white, green, brown or colorless. Besides these fagged particles, the researchers have found smooth beads of glass, shaped like dumbells, baseballs, and gelatin capsules, roughly a millimeter longer.
This glass was probably formed from meteor impacts that splattered molten rock across huge distances, Frondel said. These impacts may also send shock waves comparable to those from an atom bomb blast through the lunar soil, melting some particles into a glass.
A team of scientists, including Frondel, ran preliminary tests on the 44 pounds of lunar rock and then decided which specimens to send to each of the 142 investigators here and abroad. Most of the investigators have received about 10 grams of lunar dust so far and will pick up larger chunks of rock within a few weeks.
Wood and Frondel are analyzing the rock's chemical composition much as they would an earthbound rock's. Barghoorn will use an electron microscope to scan slivers of lunar rock for fossil
ized bacteria or other signs of ancient life. Fireman is analyzing the radioisotopes of helium, argon and hydrogen to determine the effects of the solar wind-a stream of high energy particles from the sun-on the lunar rock.
The lunar scientists will present their results next January at a NASA conference in Houston. None of the Harvard samples will be placed on public display here, but M.I.T. will include several lunar specimens in a space science exhibit opening this Saturday.