Uncovering details about the lunar core is critical for developing accurate models of the moon’s formation. The data sheds light on the evolution of a lunar dynamo — a natural process by which our moon may have generated and maintained its own strong magnetic field.
The team’s findings suggest the moon possesses a solid, iron-rich inner core with a radius of nearly 150 miles and a fluid, primarily liquid-iron outer core with a radius of roughly 205 miles. Where it differs from Earth is a partially molten boundary layer around the core estimated to have a radius of nearly 300 miles. The research indicates the core contains a small percentage of light elements such as sulfur, echoing new seismology research on Earth that suggests the presence of light elements — such as sulfur and oxygen — in a layer around our own core.
The researchers used extensive data gathered during the Apollo-era moon missions. The Apollo Passive Seismic Experiment consisted of four seismometers deployed between 1969 and 1972, which recorded continuous lunar seismic activity until late-1977.
Future NASA missions will help gather more detailed data. The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL, is a NASA Discovery-class mission set to launch this year. The mission consists of twin spacecraft that will enter tandem orbits around the moon for several months to measure the gravity field in unprecedented detail. The mission also will answer longstanding questions about Earth’s moon and provide scientists a better understanding of the satellite from crust to core, revealing subsurface structures and, indirectly, its thermal history.
NASA and other space agencies have been studying concepts to establish an International Lunar Network — a robotic set of geophysical monitoring stations on the moon — as part of efforts to coordinate international missions during the coming decade.