SpaceIL’s Spaceship Project: The Scientific Experiment

“Hitching a ride” to the Moon to conduct a scientific experiment – measuring the magnetic field

As part of SpaceIL’s spaceship project, we at the Weizmann Institute of Science are planning to do a scientific experiment.

Through this experiment we will attempt to explain how moon rocks became magnetic. It’s a mystery to science, and until today, no one has been able to explain it.

We know that the Moon does not have a global magnetic field. On the other hand, starting as far as 50 years ago, following the Apollo  landing on the Moon, it was discovered that some rocks are magnetic. So how did the rocks acquire their magnetism?

In this experiment we will measure the Moon’s magnetic field and study its source. We plan to achieve this by using a miniature magnetometer (which will be used to measure and gather data on the Moon’s surface) in three phases: during landing, on the surface and during the jump.

This experiment is conducted in association with the Weizmann Institute of Science and the University of California.

What is a magnetic field?

A magnetic field is an expression of forces interacting, affecting each other with electrical currents or magnetic substances. A magnetic field has a direction and a size in each point in a certain space. On the Moon, there’s a local magnetic field. Some of the Moon’s ground is magnetized and some is not. The magnetized areas have varying strengths. We can recognize a magnetized rock in the following way: When a rock is magnetized we’ll see a batch of rocks facing the same direction. When the rock isn’t magnetized, the magnetic boundaries are mixed and they’re facing different directions.

Here are a few possible explanations for this mystery:

The Moon had a magnetic field in the past, and the rocks were formed from magmatic substance in an environment where there was a magnetic field.

The rocks may have landed on the Moon when meteorites collided with it. These meteorites could have included substances that are inclined to become magnetic, and when they cooled down they acquired the conditions of the environmental field, which later became non-magnetic.

Another option: A collision event on the surface of the Moon could have created a temporary magnetic field, around which the rocks would preserve signs of magnetism as a result from the strong impact or heating.

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Prof. Oded Aharonson is Head of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the Weizmann Institute of Science, and SpaceIL’s Chief Scientist. Aharonson received his B.S. and M.S. in Engineering Physics from Cornell University, served in the Israeli Air Force, received a PhD from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and was a Professor at Caltech (California Institute of Technology) for ten years. After that he returned to the Weizmann Institute of Science, where he currently serves as the Head of the Planetary Sciences Center.

Aharonson is a member of several teams of space probe missions in the Solar system, including the Mars rovers and the LRO spaceship orbiting the Moon.

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