Context: NASA recently announced that it’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft had found evidence that the Moon’s subsurface might have greater quantities of metals such as iron and titanium than thought before.

More on the news:

  • The metallic distribution was observed by the Miniature Radio Frequency (Mini-RF) instrument aboard the LRO.
  • According to NASA, the finding could aid in drawing a clearer connection between Earth and the Moon.

Findings of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)

  •  The dielectric constant increased as they surveyed larger craters
    • To their surprise, the Mini-RF team observed that the level of this property increased as they surveyed larger craters, and kept rising in crater sizes up to 5 km in diameter. 
    • Beyond that size, the value of the dielectric constant levelled off.
  • Expectation to challenge some of their past beliefs
    • In order to understand the origins of the Moon, scientists have for years explored the presence of metal deposits on the moon comparative to Earth
    • As more data has become available over time, researchers have been able to further refine their hypotheses.

Dielectric Constant

  • Out on a mission to look for ice in polar lunar craters, the LRO’s Mini-RF instrument was measuring an electrical property within lunar soil in crater floors in the Moon’s northern hemisphere. 
  • The dielectric constant is the ratio of the electric permeability of a material to the electric permeability of a vacuum.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)

  • The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is a NASA robotic spacecraft currently orbiting the Moon in an eccentric polar mapping orbit. 
  • Data collected by LRO have been described as essential for planning NASA's future human and robotic missions to the Moon.


Possibility of unknown quantities of iron and titanium oxides.

  • The findings raise the possibility that the dielectric constant increased in larger craters because the meteors that created them dug up dust containing iron and titanium oxides from beneath the Moon’s surface. 
  • Dielectric properties are directly linked to the concentration of these metal minerals.
  • If true, this logic would imply that beyond a few meters of the Moon’s upper surface– which relatively has lower metal deposits– lie large unknown quantities of iron and titanium oxides.


The Moon formation hypothesis

  • The most popular theory about the Moon’s creation is that a Mars-sized protoplanet collided with newly formed Earth around 4.5 billion years ago, breaking off a piece of our planet that went on to become its satellite. 
  • The hypothesis is also backed by substantial evidence, such as the close resemblance between the Moon’s bulk chemical composition with that of Earth.
  • However, it is also known that Earth’s crust has lesser amounts of iron oxide than the Moon– a finding that scientists have been trying to explain. 
    • Now after the new discovery of even greater quantities of metal on the Moon makes their job even more difficult.
    • A possible reason for this could be that the Moon was created from a material much deeper beneath Earth’s surface than was believed before, or that the newly found metal presence could be the result of molten lunar surface cooling down gradually.


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