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Moon Rocks: Everything You Need to Know About Them

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The Moon has satisfied humanity since the dawn of time, exerting a powerful influence over various aspects of our world. Its mesmerizing presence has long prompted curiosity about the properties responsible for its far-reaching effects. Thanks to advancements in solar exploration, we now understand the Moon’s characteristics and how they contribute to its impact on Earth.

The Moon’s enduring mystery has sparked a growing sense of curiosity, ultimately leading to groundbreaking expeditions. As these missions returned, they gave humanity a wealth of knowledge about our celestial neighbour and the entire solar system. This invaluable data came in the form of rough sediment collections and Moon Rocks, offering tantalizing clues to unravel the secrets hidden within the lunar landscape. So, what revelations do these lunar samples hold, and what can the Moon tell us about our cosmic history?

What are Moon rocks and can you buy or sell them?
What are Moon Rocks, and can you buy or sell them?

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What are Moon Rocks?

These cosmic treasures come in shades of white and grey, encompassing a variety of rock types such as basalts, breccias, and plutonic rocks sourced from the lunar highlands.

Certain specimens, like the Genesis rock, have been dated to around 4.1 billion years old, and their unique composition provides valuable insights into the mysteries of our universe.

Moon rocks are samples of sediment gathered from the lunar surface during various expeditions. The types of rocks found on the Moon include basalt, anorthosite, breccia, and regolith. Each rock sample collected from different regions of the Moon possesses distinct mineral compositions that set them apart.

During the Apollo 11 mission, astronauts collected over 840 pounds of lunar materials from 6 separate sites on the Moon, amounting to approximately 2,200 individual samples. They employed specialized tools such as aseptic samplers, extension handles, and plastic bags to handle these samples without direct contact.

Lunar crust is made up of 98 – 99% plagioclase feldspar, pyroxene, olivine, and ilmenite, and 1 – 2% potassium feldspar, rutile, calcium phosphates, zircon, troilite, iron metal, and oxide minerals such as chromite and pleonaste.

Hydrous minerals have not been discovered on the moon to date, and the simplistic lunar mineralogy is telling of its authenticity.

Through the study of these lunar materials, some secrets about the moon’s origins have been revealed – the biggest of which details surprising and eerie similarities to the Earth.

The oxygen isotopes found within the Moon’s crust resemble those on Earth, giving rise to several theories regarding the Moon’s origin.

The Giant Impact Theory emerges as the most plausible explanation among these theories. According to this hypothesis, a Mars-sized planetary body, dubbed ‘Theia’ by scientists, collided with Earth during the early stages of our planet’s development approximately 4.5 billion years ago.

The aftermath of this cosmic collision saw the young Earth absorbing Theia’s mass while the impact generated a ring of debris that eventually coalesced to form the Moon. Although further studies are necessary to validate this theory conclusively, scientists consider it a viable explanation based on the research conducted thus far.

Beyond providing insights into the age of the Moon and neighbouring planets, the lunar samples were also subjected to quarantine procedures involving various species to assess potential toxicity risks.

During these experiments, organisms such as paramecia, planarians, shrimps, oysters, house flies, and cockroaches were exposed to the rocks, and remarkably, they remained unharmed throughout the process.

To ensure their preservation and integrity, the moon rock samples are meticulously stored in nitrogen-filled cabinets and handled indirectly during data collection and research activities.

Since the first successful lunar expedition, NASA has collected far more specimens and has shared around 50,000 separate samples with 500 research labs in over 15 countries.

Can You Buy Moon Rocks?

Despite the fact that many individuals have claimed to have ownership of authentic Moon rocks, there are plenty of laws and regulations that prohibit this.

Since the only individuals who have access to these specimens are those involved in their collection and research, they should generally never end up in the hands of the public.

It is illegal for private citizens to own or buy any authentic Moon Rocks or related material. Lunar samples obtained on Earth through findings of crashed lunar meteorites are legal.

However, as with all valuable and sought-after items, they are auctioned and sold illegally. While some people somehow manage to attain Moon rocks from safes, some have resorted to scraping Moon Dust off dirty space suits to sell it to the highest bidder.

Some resort to straight-up scamming people on top of already illegal trade. They often use other minerals and rock formations with similar visual or physical properties and claim them as Moon Rocks.

An example of this action was when the Dutch National Museum uncovered that a Moon Rock gifted to the Prime Minister by the United States was, in fact, petrified wood.

It’s still uncertain how exactly this happened, and no culprit for this particular event has been found.

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Can You Loan Moon Rocks?

So, it’s illegal to own a Moon Rock, sell a Moon Rock, and buy a Moon Rock. Does that mean the public has to rely solely on imagination while only lunar explorers and organizations experience the wonders of this find for humanity? No, it doesn’t.

You can loan Moon Rocks from the STFC and the NASA Astromaterials Curation Office. One can temporarily have experience with Moon Rocks for educational purposes, and specimens have been loaned to thousands of schools, museums, and outreach organizers.

Thanks to the STC Lunar Rocks and Meteorites Loan Scheme, countless people have been blessed with the chance to borrow the moon and have a private temporary experience with Moon Rocks. They also offered a loan to the Natural History Museum meteorites.

The STFC is the only authorized source for the loan of NASA Moon Rocks, lunar soil, and relative precious materials. However, loans are generally not made to private individuals but to educational or scientific organizations within the United Kingdom.

Informative support is provided for varying ages, along with Moon maps and photo slides, enabling groups to modify resources to suit their educational needs.

Moon rocks and lunar samples are also available for educational use by the NASA Astromaterials Curation Office, part of the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) Directorate.

They sponsor the Lunar and Meteorite Sample Education Disk Program, which makes samples available to educational institutions such as K–12 schools, colleges, and universities, usually for a loan period of 2 weeks.

The program provides K – -12 school teachers with a 6 – 6-diameter clear acrylic disk containing 6 samples of either Moon rocks or meteorites, each of which is paired with a thorough written and graphic description, a PowerPoint presentation CD, a teachers’ workbook, and additional printable materials for students. This is limited to schools based in the United States of America.

Colleges and Universities with a geoscience curriculum are loaned 12 polished thin sections from the Lunar or meteorite sample collections.

The package includes teaching material and a sample disk embedded in acrylic and 12 informative slides.

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Why is it Illegal to Sell Moon Rocks?

The House Representatives gave away moon rocks to 32 Apollo astronauts and family members of the team lost in Apollo 1.

This was done with a sole condition – they could not under any circumstances sell the rocks, and the moon rocks could only serve as a family heirloom, being handed down to family members. Two sets of Moon Rocks were also gifted to 135 Nations, the 50 states, and U.S provinces as a gesture of goodwill.

Apollo Moon Rocks are considered National Treasures and, therefore, cannot be sold. Those found committing theft of government property face felonious charges and imprisonment. There are a small amount of Moon Rocks from the Soviet Luna missions, some of which are legal to auction.

Since it’s illegal for any private citizen to own any amount of Moon Rock unless directly gifted by NASA under a no-sale policy, it’s equally illegal to sell Moon Rocks.

However, the penalties for the illegal selling and distribution of Moon Rocks are harsh, and undercover cops are frequently used to bust illegal Moon Rock suppliers.

Many of the few thousand lunar samples are temporarily loaned to museums for research purposes. However, this has often resulted in the moon rocks being stolen or lost.

Although it’s unclear how authentic Moon Rocks fall into the hands of citizens, it’s been assumed that thieves, black market organizations, and illegal crime rings are involved. Law enforcement agents and undercover NASA investigators have been working to get to the bottom of it and have made various related arrests.

In October 1998, a fingernail-sized Moon Rock originally gifted to Honduras by Richard Nixon was apprehended after a man tried to sell it to undercover cops for $5 million.

A woman was also arrested after attempting to sell a piece of Moon Rock to an undercover NASA investigator for $1.7 million.

In October 2000, a man in Arizona was arrested by FBI agents after he attempted to sell what he claimed were Moon rocks via the Internet.

He was sentenced to 21 years of imprisonment, 3 years of probation, and 300 hours of community service after pleading guilty to the charges.

Both fake and authentic Moon Rocks are often sold at auctions for high values. Since so many moon rocks have been reported missing over the past few decades, it’s unsurprising how many are available for illegal sale.

Authorities continue to hunt down the source, and NASA maintains it has never provided individuals with specimens, except for publicized goodwill gifts under a no-sale agreement.

They have not publicly released knowledge on how these Moon Rocks are been illegally obtained. However, some arrests have led to the discovery of previously reported missing specimens.

Since the commencement of the lunar landings, research, and explorations, thousands of Moon Rocks and specimens have been stolen during shipments or disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

NASA upholds that “Lunar material retrieved from the Moon during the Apollo Program is U.S Government property”. No Apollo moon rock or any amount of moon dust has ever been sold legally, and theft of such national treasure falls within the penalty grounds of theft of government property.

That being said, NASA does not legally own every Moon Rock on Earth. A very small amount of Moon Rocks were brought back after the Soviet Luna missions in the 1970s. Some, but not all, of these specimens have been made legal for auction.

TIP: Selling moon rocks is illegal. But what about taking rocks from nature? It is legal in many cases of course, but not always. Learn more in this article:
Is it illegal to take rocks from nature? You Should Know This

How Much is a Piece of Moon Rock Worth?

In 2003, the federal government decided to put a price tag on some of its Moon Rocks due to stolen Moon Rocks being returned to custody after a group of NASA interns stole an entire Moon Rock safe from a Johnson Space Center lab.

The monetary value of Moon rocks was previously assessed by NASA in 1973 and found to be around $50,800 per gram, which equates to over $300,000 per gram in today’s currency.

Despite the fact that Moon rocks and soil were valued at over $300,000 per gram by NASA, the price that one would pay for a moon rock is well over this figure.

For instance, 0.2 grams of lunar soil from one of the Soviet Lunar missions were sold for $442,500 in 1993. This is well over NASA’s original monetary value of $300,000 per gram and $442,500 per 0.2 grams, which equates to around $2.2 million per gram instead of $300,000 per gram.

There is little data on the history of the illegal sale of moon rocks due to anonymous auctioning and black market sales. The potential monetary value in terms of what one might pay to own a piece of the Moon cannot be determined, but it is estimated to be well over NASA’s value assessment.

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Why Are Moon Rocks so Expensive?

Despite the fact that the mineral composition of various types of Moon Rocks is fairly similar to the Earth, often made up of common elements such as oxygen, iron, silica, and calcium, Moon Rocks are incredibly valuable.

So, why is this the case for a rock with such common elements within its composition?

With it being illegal to buy and sell moon rocks and quite difficult for the public to get their hands on them, the value is understandably high. People want what they cannot have, even if there is no specific reason for it, and this is ultimately what makes Moon Rocks so valuable.

The high value of Moon rocks is based on the basic rule of supply and demand. High demand and low supply equal a high value regardless of the reason, the materials it’s made of, or how it’s obtained.

The most valuable aspect of Moon rocks is the secrets they hold the key to – the information they hold within themselves regarding the origins of the Moon and our universe.

Information like this can be collected by researching age, dating specimens, etc. However, this only applies to researchers and scientists with the knowledge and amenities to benefit from this.

Most people who want to buy Moon rocks – most likely illegally – do not purchase them for the sake of knowledge or research. People would pay millions to say that they own a piece of the Moon, while most of the Earth’s population has never seen a Moon rock.

Moon rocks are so expensive because that’s the result of human choice and desire. These cosmic materials are not made of gold or diamonds, and only some samples contain rare minerals. Moon rocks are alluring and desirable because they do not come from Earth.

TIP: Moon rocks are one of the most expensive rocks. On the other hand, you can find really cheap gemstones, especially when you browse the internet. Why is that so? Check out the most common reasons in the article below:
Why Are Some Gemstones So Cheap? You Should Know This

Where Can You Touch a Moon Rock?

There are 10 available touchstones, all of which belong to Apollo lunar sample class 70215. These were discovered to belong to a group of Moon rocks containing titanium and rare Earthly elements and were collected in the Valley of Taurus-Littrow, which is located on the edge of the Sea of Serenity in the upper right quadrant of the Moon.

One of the most popular exhibits is the Lunar Touchstone, which is held at NASA Headquarters Starship Gallery in Washington, DC. This is a 3.8 billion-year-old sample that was brought back by Apollo 17 in December 1972.

The Touch Rock in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, is extremely popular.

This particular Moon Rock is a piece of basalt, an iron-rich volcanic rock, that was the first touchable Moon Rock exhibit and was put on display when the museum opened in 1976.

The museum at the Johnson Space Center has a moon rock exhibit that can touch one of the Apollo lunar samples. This rock has also been smoothed down by all the fingertips interacting with it. More touchstones are held at Space Center Houston in Texas and Museo de las Ciencias de la UNAM in Mexico.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, FL, has a slice of Moon rock that can be touched by visitors. A touchstone is also displayed at Geoscience Australia, Museon in the Netherlands, Montreal Science Center, and Macmillan Space Center in Canada.

These exhibits have brought joy and wonder to millions of adults and children, allowing them to experience something truly out of this world.

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