Forty years after the last moonwalkers came home, new discoveries about the moon are calling into question what scientists know about our celestial partner.  But is it legitimate for scientists to invoke mystery forces when a favored theory faces falsifying evidence?

Shocking physics:  Looking into the crystal balls Apollo astronauts brought back from the moon, namely zircon minerals, geologists at Curtin University decided their data “challenges” the “current paradigm” known as the Late Heavy Bombardment (see 1/09/2012).  PhysOrg reported that “impact-related shock features in lunar zircon, giving scientists a new conceptual framework to explain the history and timing of meteorite impact events in our solar system.”  When a “new conceptual framework” challenges a “current paradigm,” the ripple effects can undermine textbooks and other related theories.  Since theories about the “timing of meteorite impact events” are built on lunar data, this puts theories of the entire history of the solar system at risk.

Alternative energy source:  The moon had a long-lasting dynamo.  That statement should floor you if you are a typical planetary scientist.  To see why, read on why physicists are scrambling to find alternative power, like homeowners frantically searching for a backup generator when the lights just went out.  The data come from crystals in basalt sample #10020 from the moon that, according to the evolutionary view of radiometric dating, is 3.7 billion years old – yet has remnant magnetism.  In their dating scheme, that’s almost a billion years after the formation of the moon.  Any primeval dynamo that could have magnetized the rock should have been long gone by then.  PhysOrg put the surprise in the first sentence: “The moon has this protracted history that’s surprising.  This provides evidence of a fundamentally new way of making a magnetic field in a planet a new power source [sic].”

That quote was from Benjamin Weiss, an associate professor of planetary science at MIT, one of the authors of a paper in Science (27 January 2012: Vol. 335 no. 6067 pp. 453-456, doi: 10.1126/science.1215359).  “Such a long-lived lunar dynamo probably required a power source other than thermochemical convection from secular cooling of the lunar interior,” they wrote, referring to the consensus dynamo theory.  “The inferred strong intensity of the lunar paleofield presents a challenge to current dynamo theory.”  What powered it?  “an alternative energy source,” they suggested.  Have they found one?  No.  They tossed out a couple of possibilities at the end of the paper: maybe stirring from precession did it.  Maybe a big meteor walloped the interior into a temporary molten stir.  It hardly seems they considered those options seriously when they ended, “the late, intense paleomagnetic record from 10020 presents a challenge to current dynamo theory.”

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