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PSI’s Darby Dyar Selected to Investigate Untouched Lunar Material

March 11, 2019


PSI Senior Scientist Darby Dyar at the x-ray microprobe instrument at beamline 13 IDE, Advanced Photon Source, Argonne National Laboratory, where she will study pristine lunar material.

Photo credit: Molly McCanta.


Tucson, Ariz. -- M. Darby Dyar has been selected by NASA to lead a team in the study of pristine lunar samples returned to Earth by NASA’s Apollo spacecraft almost 50 years ago. 

“This project brings massive state-of-the-art synchrotron and infrared analysis to bear on tiny lunar samples to unlock the secrets of the lunar interior,” said Dyar, a Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute and Principal Investigator for the Spectroscopy Consortium Addressing Redox Acquired by Beads (SCARAB) project selected for funding by NASA. Dyar’s team includes Steve Sutton and Antonio Lanzarotti of the University of Chicago, Molly McCanta at the University of Tennessee, and Sheila Seaman at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. 

“SCARAB will use tiny glass beads found in the lunar soil to turn the Moon inside out,” Dyar said. “We will study the interior processes that lead to volcanism on the lunar surface. We will use state-of-the-art synchrotron technology and a mapping FTIR spectrometer to measure gradients of volatiles ­– hydrogen and oxygen – preserved in lunar glass beads. 

“The beads are formed by rapid cooling of droplets from explosive lunar fire fountains, like those seen in Hawaii,” she said. “We will map changes from core to rim that reveal hydrogen and oxygen pressures in the lunar interior and before, during, and after eruption.” 

The team will study pristine lunar volcanic glass beads in specially curated materials from Apollo 15, 16, and 17 that will be released by the Apollo Next Generation Sample Analysis (ANGSA) program. These samples have been locked up untouched since they were returned to Earth in 1971-72. 

Results will be compared to previously studied samples, some which have been exposed to air in the time since the 1970s, which will be analyzed using the same methods. Results will determine if chemical changes have taken place under terrestrial conditions despite our most careful curation procedures. 

“I first studied lunar glasses as part of my Ph.D. thesis 40 years ago,” said Dyar. “It’s so exciting to return to this problem with new technologies I could never have imagined then. I’m thrilled and honored to be part of this new effort to analyze these specially curated samples.”



Alan Fischer

Public Information Officer


fischer [at]




M. Darby Dyar

Senior Scientist

mdyar [at]


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