Moon Seen as Haven for "Beginnings of Life"

Leonard David
May 30, 2001

Earth's moon might be a biological preserve, a celestial cemetery where protolife (the beginnings of life) or fossil extremophiles (tiny organisms that can live in extremely hostile conditions) are awaiting discovery in volcanic shadowed sites.

Permanently shadowed areas on the moon, such as the lunar north and south poles—also believed to be places that harbor quantities of water ice—may contain early forms of life. If so, a go-slow approach to tapping lunar ice reserves for supporting future moon bases is a prudent step, allowing scientists to study this pre-biological bonanza.

A case for returning to the moon to look for lunar protolife was made at the National Space Society's 20th Annual International Space Development Conference held recently in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Long-standing Debate

"The possibility of protolife in shadowed areas on the moon justifies additional exploration," said Jack Green, a professor of geological sciences at California State University, Long Beach. Protolife in the form of proteinoid microspheres, as well as amino acids, could be lurking in special niches on the moon, he said.

There has been a long-standing debate about the origin of lunar surface features. That debate centers on the role of volcanism versus that of impacting meteorites or comets that have given the moon its beat up and bruised-looking face.

Green is in the camp of those who contend that the majority of major lunar features are volcanic or volcano-tectonic in origin.

Earth Parallels

In making his case, there are many Earth analogs of the volcanic variety, Green said. And he's skinned his shins trekking over some of them to back up his belief. He has studied calderas, large volcanic basins rife with gas vents, like those found in the Galápagos, as well as lava-filled spots in New Zealand, the magma fields of Toba, Sumatra, and off-center volcanoes that dot Aniakchak, Alaska.

Lunar parallels can be found in Alphonsus, Copernicus, Tycho, Wargentin, and crater Schiller on the moon, Green said.

"I believe the central mountains are volcanoes in calderas for the majority of large lunar craters," Green said. Lesser lunar gravity is likely the reason why central mountains in lunar craters are lower than crater rims, he said.

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