Baylor research group receives $260,000 grant from NASA to research volcanoes on the moon

Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 7:32 AM CST
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Baylor’s Planetary Research Group is starting off the semester with a $260,000 grant from NASA to assist in research about the light-colored volcanoes on the moon.

“There are certain volcanism spots on the Moon that are a little bit peculiar,” Allie North, Baylor sophomore and one of the researchers in the project, said. “We normally see a lot of darker colors on the Moon...but we have kind of seen these odd signatures.”

She said the odd signatures are lighter in color, and they are called silicic volcanoes. Baylor Assistant Professor of Geophysics Peter James said the extinct volcanoes are made up of rocks that weigh lighter than most other volcanic rocks on the moon.

“This is made through a special process on Earth that usually involves water or plate tectonics, and, obviously, there’s no water or plate tectonics on the Moon,” James said. “So, it’s a little weird to see that these rocks are on the Moon.”

The research group is aiming to provide more information about what the rocks are made of for future missions to the moon. James said he proposed the project to NASA’s Lunar Data Analysis Program and received the grant, giving students an opportunity to work with NASA and dive deeper into their studies.

“My whole high school career, at least, if not earlier, I’ve always really enjoyed space, and I’ve always really looked up to various NASA things,” North said. “I always loved just reading about NASA it is pretty cool to be able to be working under that.”

James said the group will be studying the density of the silicic volcanoes on the moon. He said they will study satellites that go around the moon and how the density of these extinct volcanoes alter these satellites’ paths.

The group hopes their discoveries will help assist astronauts in the next mission to the moon, which might be taking off from Space X in McGregor within the next 10 years.

“Space X is under contract to do some human exploration of the moon, provide launch vehicles,” James said. “It is very possible that, in the next decade or so, there could be a Space X spacecraft that is carrying astronauts to these volcanoes. We’re funded to do this precursor study to understand the volcanoes better and to know what the astronauts are going to find.”

James said this is the biggest grant one of his research groups has received. The funds from the grant will go toward some stipends for students, including North, to be able to spend more time researching. James also said it will fund the group’s visit to a conference to present their future findings, and the group will be able to collaborate with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

“This is basically my job, whereas, I don’t have to worry about working a job while I’m going through school because this is it,” North said. “It basically just allows us the financial abilities to go through and do the research that we want to do.”

As an undergraduate, North said she is also honored to be a part of the prestigious research group and help with discoveries.

“I’m very thankful because I actually went and met with Dr. James the first semester of my freshman year with just questions about...what should I do and what do I need to do,” she said. “Dr. James really did just kind of give me the opportunity to start working here and start learning more and more about it.”

She said she hopes to inspire other undergraduate students not to be afraid to ask for more opportunities.

“It’s really not something that’s just completely unreachable and just like, if you want to do something, reaching out to the people that can help you never hurts,” she said.

The group said they are just getting started on the research, but they are excited about the many discoveries they hope to make.