Two Quintillion Tons of Metal or Dense Oxides Found on the Moon

A large mass of material has been discovered beneath the largest crater on the Moon, the South Pole-Aitken basin, and it may contain metal from an asteroid that crashed into the Moon and formed the crater. If this is a massive metal resource then it would make lunar colonization and the industrial development of space far easier.

It could be a pile of metal five times larger than the Big Island of Hawaii.

It was found by analyzing measurements of subtle changes in the strength of gravity around the Moon, researchers analyzed data from spacecrafts used for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission.

Computer simulations of large asteroid impacts suggest that, under the right conditions, an iron-nickel core of an asteroid may be dispersed into the upper mantle (the layer between the Moon’s crust and core) during an impact.

“We did the math and showed that a sufficiently dispersed core of the asteroid that made the impact could remain suspended in the Moon’s mantle until the present day, rather than sinking to the Moon’s core,” James said.

Another possibility is that the large mass might be a concentration of dense oxides associated with the last stage of lunar magma ocean solidification.

Geophysical Research Letters – Deep Structure of the Lunar South Pole‐Aitken Basin

The South Pole‐Aitken basin is a gigantic impact structure on the far side of the Moon, with an inner rim extending approximately 2,000 km in the long axis dimension. The structure and history of this basin are illuminated by gravity and topography data, which constrain the subsurface distribution of mass. These data point to the existence of a large excess of mass in the Moon’s mantle under the South Pole‐Aitken basin. This anomaly has a minimum mass of 2.18 × 1018 kg and likely extends to depths of more than 300 km. Plausible sources for this anomaly include metal from the core of a differentiated impactor or oxides from the last stage of magma ocean crystallization. Although the basin‐forming impact event likely excavated the vast majority of the preexisting crust, the present‐day crust of the basin interior is at least 16 km thick in undisturbed regions.

SOURCES- Baylor University, Geophysical Research Letters
Written By Brian Wang,

35 thoughts on “Two Quintillion Tons of Metal or Dense Oxides Found on the Moon”

  1. There is an unfortunate historical separation (indeed competition) between manned and science (distant probes, for example) programs. We should develop more of the “precursor” style robotics that would both explore and build stuff for humans. Think how much better the probes would be if humans assembled them in Space rather than having to launch the whole thing from Earth!

  2. One of the underreported findings of the vast lunar polar water deposit confirmation was that there was substantial Carbon mixed in. H is easy from water, so N is the main problem. Pretty easy to scoop from Earth atmos, seems?

  3. I would support launch of raw stuff from Moon, then process in Space, as it would *certainly* be easier (maybe not for He3 if that is the only thing sought). Then the infrastructure could then be used for asteroid material too. All material is valuable in O’Neill Space, if for nothing other than radiation shielding or reaction mass.

  4. Well, I was not thinking of stuff to Earth! But same considerations apply to get stuff to O’Neill Space, which includes Solar Power Sats. I’m certain there is an active hopping rover plan to assay lunar craters, probably one of many. Asteroid miners seem to have hit a delay, but not in the goodness of the idea.
    I’ve even had questions as to whether it may be better to use asteroidal material for lunar projects rather than doing the processing/manufacturing on the Moon. Lower the product with elevator type tech? Moon is a planet, after all, so beware of assumption that it is better than Space for anything. (Except LSP, of course!).
    I suspect the actual market solution will be far more complex than we can even imagine at this time. Lots to do! Indeed time for serious assays!

  5. Only when we get He3 fusion to work. The moon is a great place to mine mass from. A mass driver on the moon can launch mass to almost any place in the inner solar system as a low cost.

    For instance if we decided to build large solar power stations in orbit, the best place to get the solar cells and the support structure would be the moon since it would be cheaper to process and launch that mass from the lunar surface.

  6. It depends. Its time and delta-V dependent. The moon is nearby. But you need a certain amount of delta-V to land and to transport stuff to earth. That delta-V is higher than some asteroid. Most asteroids are not metallic. And asteroids are all going to have a low concentration of platinum metals and so will require processing.

    The only way to know which is best is to do some serious assaying. Find some low delta-V asteroids near the earth and assay them. Assay the moon surface.

  7. Total world market for He-3 is about $100 million.
    That might pay for one moon mission per year, providing costs of a moon mission (including mining and processing and bulk return of mining products to Earth) fall to the current cost of a launch to orbit.

  8. They did when I was a kid.

    I think they still do, but that strange and terrible things have happened to it. Such as Mr Snuffaluffagus being seen by everyone. And of course no Kermit.

    (Turns out my spell checker recognizes and corrects Snuffaluffagus.)

  9. Now all we need is a nuclear powered boring/separating machine that poops silicate bricks and metal ingots.

  10. (a) Nobody will let you do that, because radioactive debris from the explosion will reach the Earth. Escape velocity from the Moon is low, and a nuclear explosion will exceed that.

    (b) It is entirely unnecessary. Nature has bombarded the Moon for billions of years – just look at all the craters. If you want to go deep, start with this smaller crater within the south polar crater Antoniadi ( 68 S, 172 W). It is 9.18 km below “sea level” (average geoid) on the Moon.

  11. That is what I was thinking… of course British SciFi warns us of what may happen if you set off nukes on the Moon.

  12. Rock compressive strength is on the order of tens to low hundreds of MPa. Typical rock density is ~2000 kg/m^3, so you get ~20 MPa of pressure per km of rock depth. That means it’ll deform and fail under its own weight below a few km to a few tens of km. That’s why you can’t drill any deeper on Earth without reinforcement. That’s what Daniel is talking about.

    There are also temperature gradients limiting how deep the equipment can function. On the Moon, both of these are lesser issues, because the gravity is weaker (so the rock weighs less) and there’s much less geologic activity (so less hot at depth).

    By comparison, the Channel Tunnel is only 75m below sea bed and 115m below sea level, placing it under less than 3 MPa of pressure.

  13. Does your home fusor run on He-3? Mine’s running on D-T. Enough to power a portable black-hole dust cleaner, which I have to use daily to suck up the free neutrons which are all-over my garage.

  14. magnesium, palladium, platinum, gold

    One of these things is not like the others.
    Three of these things are kind of the same

  15. It probably won’t help much with lunar industrialization. For one, it seems that the resource is probably pretty deep. They note that there is no correlation with surface mineralogy. It may be at the shallowest 200 km. This is way further than we have ever drilled on earth. It is likely to be more difficult to drill on the moon due to the scarcity of water. Having more metals don’t help much. Free iron already constitutes something like half a percent of lunar regolith. That is one can extract iron with minimal to no refining needed just by running a magnet over the regolith. Iron is something like 15% of lunar regolith, although it needs to be reduced from oxides. What would really help on the moon is confirming the presence of volatiles. As far as we can tell, the moon doesn’t have much hydrogen, carbon, or nitrogen. Hydrogen alone is very useful. We can do a lot more seperation and refining processes with hydrogen, we can make silicone for seals, we can use it for energy storage. Carbon enables us to make plastics, we can make photoresists for microchips, and pure carbon crucibles for making high quality silicon. Having a good source of volatiles is much more important than having metal.

  16. To clarify. If you have solid stone above, you have every degree of arch or v-structure in that stone.

  17. If, what you were saying was true, they would not have been able to make the Channel Tunnel through weak chalk with hundreds of feet of material above and sea.

  18. “It is the total weight of rock sitting on top of the hole’s sides which eventually exceed it’s strength, and cause it to collapse.” No, that is not true. Rock is not trying to push out every bubble of air like honey.

    Our limits on depth on Earth have nothing to do with the Moon. The Earth is just too hot for humans beyond a certain depth. And for safety we want to be able to get people out quickly. That rescuing is kind of meaningless on the Moon, as the surface is probably less safe. Your work camp on the Moon would be some distance down in the mine to minimize travel time…assuming you even had any people in the mine.

    The rock ceiling is not holding up the whole mountain so to speak. It only holds up a few feet generally. Consider if every ceiling was 79 degrees angling together. Guess what? It is, plus whatever rock is in that wedge. So worst case, you are holding up that rock in the wedge…but that is very unlikely…as it holds itself together with everything around it.

    Impacts can fracture rock. But most fracture lines are not smooth planes that stuff slides easily on.

    At some depth you are right…but that would be very deep…and the forces would be coming from every direction. Rock strength just would not be sufficient…the hardest stone would crush like sand and metal would deform like honey. But that would be pretty close to the outer core. Radiation from heavy elements may limit depth also. And heat, of course, but the Moon is much cooler.

  19. As the main headline points out, the quantities can be truly astronomical. A main question is when does it get better to go after asteroids directly(or is it already?). Not a bad problem to have, once we get going!

  20. NASA space science work is fine and necessary.

    The problem is they are tasked with building space launchers, which haven’t been new science or tech for a while.

  21. This is just science fiction academic info. It’s kinda like Schrödinger’s cat. It doesn’t matter if it’s there and we can’t get at it. Being there is no better than not being there if it’s 16km down and we can’t get at it. Maybe some 250 yrs in the future we can get that deep. This planet is littered with tons of stuff we should exploit for our betterment. NASA exploration is a crapshoot. They are in disarray and over budget, looking for c rap to do in order to justify their existence. Bunches of very smart people who should direct their talents to more economically positive pursuits.

  22. You are right in thinking that there might be a high concentration of platinum metals near the surface. Some of the asteroid should have melted and bubble up to the surface. Only way to know is to assay the surface.

  23. Stuff would be thrown out of the crater by the explosion of the impact. But there should still be a high concentration of material in the crater. A low concentration of platinum metals may be enough to make it profitable to mine.

    I am thinking that there maybe enough small metal meteorites that are embedded a few meters in the lunar surface that may be worth mining. They should be easy to find magnetically.

  24. Platinum metals on the moon could be the economical reason for moon colonization. What we need to do is orbit a satellite that can do remote assaying. The land some rovers to assay some of the best spots that the orbiter found. We could does this for less than a billion. We could finance it by selling lottery tickets for short term mining leases.

  25. In the long run it’s all down to how far down mineable concentrations begin.

    In the short run, unless the answer is just a few meters, it doesn’t really matter.

  26. The metallic structure lies at a depth of up to 300 km, which means that the impact material is also closer to the surface layer of the Moon’s surface.It will be important to study the structure of this core of the planetoid metal, 3 D computer modeling is advisable, then it will show what the shape of the structure may be and what proportions are closer to the surface, e.g. the shape of the mushroom.If the composition is similar to Psyche 16 (also core metallic asteroid (20% will be valuable metals like magnesium, palladium, platinum, gold.) If you manage to extract only 1% of the surface, this means 20 trillion tons, including about 2,4 million tons gold (the world’s resources in the deposits are 300,000 tons, and the extracted 174,000 tons)  and 400 million tons of PGMs (platinum)TT

  27. Seems fairly likely many craters will have goodies in them. No water when they hit (no atmos before) means no steam explosion to scatter stuff around, like on Earth. No plate movement means stuff just sits there waiting. Each crater a new opportunity!
    We seem to focus on the fantastical rather than the practical. “Two Quintillion Tons of Metal or Dense Oxides” rather than plenty for getting started. Ring World rather than O’Neill, for example. Fusion rather than Criswell’s plans for such lunar material.

  28. The existence of this mass is irrelevant if it can’t be reached by mining technology, just like the huge amount of iron at the Earth’s core is irrelevant.

    The deepest hole drilled on Earth is 12 km. On the Moon we should be able to go 6 times deeper, because the lower gravity won’t make the surrounding rock collapse the hole until you reach that much deeper. It is the total weight of rock sitting on top of the hole’s sides which eventually exceed it’s strength, and cause it to collapse.

    This is the same reason mountains on Mars can be taller than those on Earth. Eventually you reach the limits of rock strength, and it collapses. This is also the reason all bodies above a certain diameter are spherical – their self-gravity makes them collapse to a minimum volume shape, which is a sphere (for slowly rotating ones). So a mass 300 km deep is of no use to us.

    In any case, lunar surface rocks are 47% silicon, iron, aluminum, and magnesium, which is plenty for providing solar energy and construction materials. And the surface material is conveniently broken up in a regolith layer 2-8 meters thick, depending on location. So the terrestrial process of blasting to break up the bedrock isn’t needed for a long time.

Comments are closed.