Science

Can’t go to the moon with NASA? Mistasta Crater in Canada is the next best thing.

Can't go to the moon with NASA?  Mistasta Crater in Canada is the next best thing.
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Mistasta Crater on Earth contains large amounts of the brilliant white rock on most of the lunar surface

Canadian astronaut Joshua Kutryk and NASA astronaut Matthew Dominick hike up Discovery Hill at Mistastin Crater.
Canadian astronaut Joshua Kutryk and NASA astronaut Matthew Dominick hike up Discovery Hill at Mistastin Crater. (Photo by Gordon Osinski/Photo by Gordon Osinski)

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Most of us will never fly to the moon, but we have the next best thing in our backyard: Canada. In addition to ice hockey, maple syrup, and unusual courtesy, the country also boasts one of the best craters for studying the moon without boarding a spaceship.

You may not have heard of Mistasta Crater in the northern part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador (and I think many Canadians would forgive you, right?), but there are a few reasons why it aligns well with the moon.

Much like most of my dating lives, the crater’s remote location isolates it from most people and mimics the loneliness felt on the moon; the structure is similar to many lunar craters; and the area contains rare rocks eerily similar to those found by astronauts on the moon.

These qualities make it a suitable training ground for prospective NASA Artemis astronauts Mission that plans to land astronauts on the moon as early as 2025. On Wednesday, NASA took a significant step toward returning to the moon and started an unmanned test flight called Artemis I, which will not land on the surface but will remain in lunar orbit for up to 25 ½ days to demonstrate that the rocket and spacecraft can fly safely.

“This crater in Labrador wasn’t even known to be a crater during the Apollo missions,” said Gordon Osinski, a planetary geologist at Canada’s Western University who has guided astronauts around the crater. “I would love for every astronaut who ever walks the moon to come to Mistastin.”

Mistastin, known locally as Kametastin, is in the spiritual and traditional hunting grounds of the Mushuau Innu First Nation and requires permission from them to visit.

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The crater is essentially in the middle of nowhere, said planetary geologist Cassandra Marion, who has been to the site six times. There’s no formal runway strip, and visitors usually land in a small, unpressurized cargo plane on a shrubby gravel area – unless a large boulder gets in the way. It is often rainy and windy. When it’s not windy, it’s full of biting black flies.

The rugged terrain of the Canadian Arctic is a mix of taiga and tundra. Black spruce and alder live at lower elevations, while moss is found near river beds and at higher elevations. And then there are little yummy blueberries all over the tundra. If you don’t watch where you sit, Marion said, you could end up with a “purple butt.”

“She’s a cruel lover in a way, but I would go back,” Marion said. “It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. You feel like you’re the only ones for miles.”

In September, Marion and Osinski took two astronauts to Mistasta Crater for geology training and to identify rocks they might see on the moon. Many of the rocks are accessible through outcrops or cliffs formed millions of years ago.

Mistastin Crater was formed when an asteroid crashed about 36 million years ago, leaving a substantial 17-mile (28-kilometer) dent in the ground that can be seen today. Osinski said that large craters like this one are called “complex craters” and are common on the lunar surface.

Complex craters are flatter and shallower than a bowl-shaped depression like Arizona’s meteor crater where astronauts also train. Like many lunar complex craters, Mistastin has a central mountain known as the central peak.

“Not only is this crater in Labrador a complex impact crater, it’s also relatively well preserved,” Osinski said. “I’ve been there many times and it’s still very nice when you walk uphill to the rim and then just literally peek into this huge hole in the ground.”

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We know that’s not the case at Mistasta Crater exactly Like the moon. Unlike the moon, we have wind, water and wifi. In fact, today’s Mistastin appears to bear no resemblance to the moon, as it contains a lake (about half the size of the original crater impact), likely the result of drained glaciers from the last Ice Age. But don’t let the lake fool you.

A close resemblance to our moon friend lies in its rocks. It is one of two craters on Earth that contain large amounts of a rock called anorthosite. The other is the heavily eroded Manicouagan impact structure in Quebec, making the much younger, better preserved Mistastin crater the preferred choice for research and astronaut training.

While anorthosite is rare on Earth, it is widespread on the lunar surface. You may never have spoken its name, but you’ve seen it every time you look up at the moon: The rock is made up of the bright, highly reflective parts that can be seen well above the lunar surface and are known as the lunar highlands.

“Part of the reason we see so much around the moon is simply the way the moon formed,” said Julie Stopar, a lunar geologist at the Universities Space Research Association’s Lunar and Planetary Institute.

Compared to our home planet, the lunar surface was primarily formed by impact craters and volcanism.

According to a popular formation theory, the moon came together when a Mars-sized body crashed into a young Earth about 4.6 billion years ago, just before the formation of our solar system began. Stopar said hot debris from around Earth merged with the moon and blanketed the young moon in an ocean of magma — “basically just lava, lava everywhere.”

In a simplified explanation, Stopar said that as the magma ocean at the surface cooled over time, various minerals and rocks began to crystallize. Denser materials sank and lighter materials floated up to essentially become the moon’s surface. A predominant mineral that flowed to the surface was anorthite, which is the predominant component in anorthosite rock.

The history of anorthosite formation on Earth is more complicated and not as well understood, said Marion, who is a science advisor at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Research Proposals The anorthosite is also likely formed by the separation of lighter crystals in magma, but deep in our mantle. As the magma slowly cools and crystallizes, the less dense mineral crystals separate from the denser materials and solidify into anorthosite. The rock was exposed by erosion and plate tectonic activity.

Then the fact that an asteroid happened to create a crater in this rare anorthosite-rich area? Well, that’s the luck of nature.

The collusion brought high temperatures and pressures that essentially cracked, fractured, and melted the rocks. Marion said the effects of the high-speed impact are similar to a large impact on the moon.

“How the rocks have changed is similar to how they would have changed after an impact on the moon,” Marion said.

Marion points out that although you can’t go to the crater itself, anorthosite is present in this region of Labrador.

Astronauts traveling to the moon will photograph different types of rock, such as: B. Melt Rock, and provide notes to help explorers like Osinski on Earth.

“They can’t bring back every stone they see. We want them to do that mental sorting, “Okay, I have 100 bricks in front of me and I can bring two back.” [and] How do you select that essentially in real-time,” Osinski said.

Stopar said if the astronauts could bring back more lunar rocks, researchers could date craters on the moon and create a better geological history of our neighbor and floating debris at the beginning of our solar system. She said we can also learn how much water was delivered to the Earth and Moon by comets and asteroids, and the challenges life faced at the time.

“I’m really excited that this type of exploration is happening,” said Stopar, who is a team member for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission. “Scientifically, I know it’s going to be awesome because every time we get samples from the moon, we just learn so much more about it. Even today, we still learn tons about the moon from the samples that were brought in 50, 60 years ago.”

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