Living On The Moon! at The Royal Summer Science Exhibition 2019

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About the Exhibition

The "Living on the Moon!" exhibit at the Royal Summer Science Exhibition 2019 is an interactive experience highlighting the progress of lunar science since the Apollo 11 Moon landings 50 years ago. Our exhibit illustrates the journey from Moon landing, to Lunar sample science, to the current generation of Moon rovers looking for water on the Moon, and provides a look forward to the next 50 years and a vision of a permanent human presence on the Moon.

What to expect

Visitors were able to handle lunar samples and analyse them under the microscope and through interactive virtual miscroscopes, having a chance to discuss what we have learned from them about the Moon. Visitors were also able to find out about current planned missions to revisit the Moon to answer outstanding science questions such as the location of water and other resources, and explore the plausibility and challenges of enabling a sustainable human presence on the Moon through utilisation of local resources. Also, you could see a demonstration of how 3D printing might be used to produce structures and components on the Moon using local materials.


We will be launching a resources page after the exhibition to find out more information about what was discussed on the exhibit.


The exhibit was prepared by a collaboration of 5 main institutes, the Open University, the University of Manchester, the Natural History Museum, the University of Oxford, and Birkbeck University.

When and Where?

The exhibit was on display from the 1st to 7th July at The Royal Society in London. An interactive map and address can be found at the bottom of this page. The closest London Underground stations are Piccadilly Circus (7 minutes walk), Charing Cross or Green Park (10 minutes walk).

Thank you to all who visited the exhibit!

Here is a slideshow of images from our time at the Royal Society


A brief introduction to our lunar neighbour


Kilometres in Diameter


Kilometres from Earth


Days to orbit the earth


Gravitational force of that of the Earth

Moon Misconceptions


Phases of the Moon are caused by a shadow from the Earth, clouds, or the Earth's or Moon's rotation.


Our perspective of the Moon's sunlit appearance changes as it orbits Earth.


The Moon does not rotate.


The Moon does spin on its axis, completing a rotation once every 27.3 days; the confusion is caused because it also takes the same period to orbit the Earth, so that it keeps the same side facing us.

Visit our exhibit for more revelations based on common misconceptions!

Formation of the Moon

(A matter of continuing scientific debate)

To view our sources, hover over references

Even before humans reached the Moon, the question of how the Earth’s natural satellite formed was explored. Three theories were proposed:

  • Co-Accretion: Moon and Earth accreted at the same time [1,2,3,4,5]
  • Capture: Moon formed elsewhere in solar system but migrated inwards towards the Sun, eventually caught by Earth’s gravitation attraction. [6,7,8,9]
  • Fission: Earth was spinning so fast that some material was ejected and re-accreted to form the Moon in the Earth’s orbit [10,11,12]

These theories were based on physical constraints of the Earth-Moon system, such as the orbit, density, and angular momentum. Questions on the chemical composition of the Moon compared to the Earth, however, persisted.

When Apollo 11 returned to Earth in July 1969, followed by 5 other lunar landings over the next 3 years, returning Moon rock and soil samples for scientific investigations a better picture of the nature and history of the Moon emerged. Most notably, the Apollo rocks showed an extraordinary similarity in the chemistry and isotopes of the Earth and Moon, indicating that they are intrinsically linked. [13]

Capture of a passing Moon was no longer viable, as we would expect a body formed elsewhere in the solar system would have a very different chemical signatures [13].

Instead, the study of Apollo rocks saw the resurgence of a model first proposed by Daly (1946) [14], where the impact of another body with the Earth ejected material that reaccreted in orbit around the Earth [15,16]. This model, however, did not well explain the high angular momentum of the Earth-Moon system as seen now, so it was then suggested that a Mars-sized impactor collided with the early Earth [17,18,19,20].

Even with the ‘Giant Impact Model’, there are a number of characteristics of the Earth-Moon system that need to be explained:

  • Was the composition of the impactor similar or different to the Earth? If different, how did this produce such a similarity of compositions between the Earth and Moon?
  • Under what conditions (e.g. debris disk) did the ejected material accrete to form the Moon?
  • How does this explain the observed volatile depletion of the Moon relative to the Earth?

Three further theories have built upon the Giant Impact Model to better answer these questions.

  • 1. The Moon is formed through mixing of two parent bodies (Earth and impactor) with different compositions [21,22,23]
  • 2. The Earth and impactor had the same chemical and isotopic composition [24]
  • 3. The Moon-forming material (in a debris disk around the Earth, formed from parent bodies with different compositions) re-equilibrated after the giant impact [25,26]

These models are still under scrutiny and debated in the lunar science community, and individually do not entirely fit the constraints listed above.

With more samples planned to be returned from the Moon in the next decade, we may get a broader understanding of the composition of the Moon. These could bring to light information about the Moon we are missing in the samples we have so far and bring us closer to understanding how the Earth-Moon system formed.

Lunar Geology

(The many wonderful moon rocks!)

To view our sources, hover over references and images

Plutonic rocks - These rocks (which dominate the visible light parts of the lunar surface) crystallised from a molten Moon very early in its history. During crystallisation of a lunar magma ocean (LMO), plagioclase floated (due to its light relative-density to the melt) to the towards the surface and formed the early lunar crust.

Mare Basalts
Volcanic rocks - later impacts into the Moon excavated regions of the crust, creating fractures through which mantle melts ascended. These lavas filled the low-lying regions and formed the dark mare (Latin word for ‘sea’; ancient astronomers erroneously inferred dark and smooth low-lying regions as large expanses of water) patches on the lunar nearside. These cooled quickly to form the mare basalts.

Pyroclastic Glass Beads (Orange and Green)
Very energetic ‘fire fountain’ eruptions of mantle material to the lunar surface cooled incredibly quickly to form very fine-grained glass beads. These are defined according to their colour under an optical microscope (orange and green, to name a few). Some were sampled during the Apollo missions and returned to Earth. They form the orange and green soils in the Apollo discs.

The Moon has been heavily impacted throughout its history, which has broken many of these igneous rocks into fragments. These have coalesced, together with regolith, glassy and perhaps exogenous material to form breccias (which are rocks composed of angular fragments of other rocks).

Top-surface layer of bedrock fragments or debris generated by the continuous impact of large and small meteorites (also known as impact gardening) and the steady bombardment of the lunar surface by charged atomic particles from the sun and the stars. The depth of the regolith can be up to few meters. In this regolith, other than rock fragments we can find lunar soil which is comprised of less than 1 cm in grain size, and lunar dust which is smaller than 20 micrometers. Regolith is an important material of the Moon as it is likely to be the feedstock of most In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) applications.

Lunar Volatiles

(Wet Or Dry Moon?)

The study of Apollo rocks revealed that lunar rocks are depleted in volatile elements (elements with low boiling points such as C, N and H) relative to terrestrial rocks [1,2,3,4,5,6]. Estimates of the bulk Earth and Moon found that the bulk Moon is volatile depleted compared to Earth [7].

Suggested causes of this depletion included differentiation of the Moon into a body with a core, mantle and crust; depletion of volatiles in the precursor material of the Moon; and intense heating associated with the Giant Impact [8] (see ‘Formation of the Moon’).

More recently, however, it has been discovered that lunar volatiles are present on and in the Moon. In the 1990s, the Lunar Prospector Neutron Spectrometer revealed patches of hydrogen in permanently shadowed regions of lunar South Pole craters [9]. This was suggested to be the result of water ice being present in these permanent shadowed regions [9].

Every single day, solar wind brings H to the surface of the Moon. This binds with oxygen at the surface of minerals, forming OH/H2O that adsorbs onto these grains [10,11,12,13]. This means that every day, the entire surface of the Moon is hydrated to depths of a few millimetres [10].

Finally, re-analysis of rocks brought back by the Apollo missions and lunar meteorites found on Earth has shown that the lunar interior contains magmatic volatiles (volatiles that are present in the magma rather than added later). Volatiles have been identified and measured in glass beads produced in fire-fountain eruptions of magma to the lunar surface [e.g. 14-15]; the mineral apatite in which volatiles are essential structural constituents [e.g. 16,17,18,19]; and trapped pockets of melt inside crystals in Apollo mare basalts [e.g.20] (see ‘Lunar Geology’ for definition of mare basalts). These discoveries are being used to create models which explain how and when these volatiles were delivered to the Earth-Moon system, a rapidly changing area of discussion in lunar science. The consolidation of volatile measurements of a variety of lunar samples will constrain the timing and possible sources of these volatiles.

To find out more about the Apollo missions, visit NASA's special Apollo 50th website, filled with exciting videos, pictures and information about the last manned Moon missions!

If you'd like to learn more about the Moon - how it formed, how it was studied before and after the first manned landing, and lunar scientific research happening right now, why not take the Open University's free course "The Moon"?

Want to explore the Moon more interactively? ESA have prepared a comprehensive guide where you can explore lunar science in a range of ways!

If you are interested in the event which allowed our research and exhibit to exist; The Apollo 11 Mission, then check out the Lunar Landing experience on this website; where simultaneous ground-to-space communications can be heard in one ear and the Flight Director's loop in the other as the eagle descended to the surface of the moon.

Below we have provided a couple of videos to show our preparation for the exhibition and to provide simple, interesting information about the moon!


Dr Mahesh Anand

Open University

Dr Ben Dryer

Open University

Dr Alice Stephant

Open University

Tara Hayden

Open University

Dr Sarah Crowther

University of Manchester

Prof Sara Russell

Natural History Museum

Dr Neil Bowles

University of Oxford

Prof Ian Crawford

Birkbeck (University of London)

Dr Thomas Barrett

Open University


Curious? Unfortunately, our resources will not be available to the public until the end of the exhibition. If you want to find out more, we welcome you to attend the exhibition and will satisfy your curiosity.

Contact or Visit

We would love to meet you at the event in London. If you are unavailable to do so or wish to ask anything regarding the exhibit, feel free to fill in the form below and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

The Royal Society
6-9 Carlton House Terrace, St. James's, London SW1Y 5AG

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