Determining Lunar Surface Composition
(Elementary, Middle, and High School)
  • Elementary-SC.A.1.2.1 (AA), SC.D.1.2.1 (AA), SC.E.1.2.2 (RA), SC.H.1.2.4 (AA)
  • Middle-  SC.E.1.3.1 (AA), SC.E.1.3.2
  • High School- SC.E.1.4.2, SC.E.2.4.7, SC.H.1.4.2, SC.H.2.4.1,SC.H.3.4.3SC.H.3.4.5
  • Students will observe that the Moon's surface has areas of light and dark color
  • Students will learn that the light and dark areas of the Moon's surface are related to the types of rocks and soil(regolith) 
  • Moon Image
  • Rock samples of different color/composition
  • 10 Rhyolite (47H6907)              * Catalog Numbers from Wards
  • 10 Andesite (47H0517)            ** Total cost with Florida discount
  • 10 Basalt (47H1042)                     and free shipping about $55
  • 20 Magnifiers (24H1112) 
  • Zip Lock Bags
Commit to an Outcome
  • Give the students the Moon image and ask these questions.
  • Is the surface of the Moon the same all over?
  • What differences do you observe?
Expose Beliefs
  • What do you think makes up the Moon's surface?
  • Share these beliefs with other students.
Confront Beliefs
  • Give the students the samples of rhyolite and basalt (one set for every 3 or 3 students) and one magnifier for each student.
  • Here are two of the types of rocks that make up the Moon's surface.
  • What do you observe about these rocks relative to the Moon image?
Accommodate the Concept
  • Give the students the samples of andesite.
  • How does this sample modify your ideas about the composition of the Moon's surface?
Extend the Concept
  • Have you noticed the relationship between light and dark objects before?
  • List some examples .
Go Beyond
  • Do you have any questions?
  • How do you think that NASA can use the relationship between light and dark to determine the composition of the surface of a space object from orbit?

What we learned from this activity:

The surface of the Moon consists of light and dark areas.
There are types of igneous rocks that have similar color (rhyolite-white; andesite-gray; basalt dark gray to black) that relate to the colors on the Moon's surface and could possibly exist on the surface of the Moon.

Amplifying Information:

During the Apollo missions which landed of the Moon, numerous 'Moon Rock' samples were returned to the Earth for study.  These 'Moon Rocks' were similar to many types of igneous rocks we have on Earth including rhyolite, andesite, and basalt in addition to other types of igneous rocks.  The dark areas of the Moon, Lunar Maria,  were found to consist mostly of basalt.  The the light colored areas of the Moon, the Lunar Highlands, were found to consist of light colored igneous rocks.

NASA is using an instrument (spectroscope) to investigate the surface of Mars from orbit and on the rovers.  This instrument analyses the way a rock returns the various wavelenghts of light (colors) and that relationship with the composition of the rocks.  The Mars Reconnaissance Rover (MRO) which was launched on August 12, 2005 is currently enroute to Mars will be in a stable orbit around Mars about September 2006. The MRO has an instrument onboard, CHRISM (Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars), which will examine the composition of the Martian surface to determine desirable landing sites for later missions.