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A laboratory activity using NASA's lunar thin sections set

Type of Activity:

  • Lab Activity

Brief description of the activity and its strengths:

This lab activity makes use of NASA's lunar thin section set (available on loan from NASA for educational purposes) for an upper level class where most students have prior experience with the petrographic microscope. It emphasizes the differences between lunar and similar terrestrial samples in thin section and introduces shock metamorphism.


Type and level of course in which you would use this activity:

This was incorporated into an upper level (junior and senior Geoscience majors who have completed Mineralogy) and graduate course with 16 students. The lab is exploratory and not "difficult" but does require familiarity with the petrographic microscope and thin sections of typical Earth rocks.

Skills and concepts that students should have mastered before beginning the activity:

How to use a petrographic microscope
How to identify major rock-forming minerals using a petrographic microscope

How the activity is situated in its course

This was a lab that was inserted into the class when the thin section set was available (up to NASA, not the instructor). It ended up being towards the end of the semester.

Goals of the Activity

Content/concepts goals

Differences between Earth and moon rocks and minerals.
Impact-related shock metamorphism
Lunar history and petrography

Higher order thinking skills goals

Converting observations (petrographic microscopy) into models and histories of how rocks formed.

Comparing lunar and terrestrial examples to illustrate geological differences between Earth and moon.

Other skills goals

Petrographic microscopy


In this lab, students work in pairs to examine thin sections from NASA's lunar thin section set, which is available to Universities for educational purposes. Students gain direct exposure to lunar samples collected by the Apollo astronauts. Students compare terrestrial and lunar thin sections to assess both similarities and differences between Earth and moon rocks, including the effects of shock metamorphism and compositional differences.


Students need to identify (and sketch) areas of the thin sections that illustrate relevant properties or emphasize key differences. These sketches need to show areas of the thin sections that highlight the desired properties, and communicate these properties (or differences). Students need to demonstrate that they can take what they see in a single thin section and interpret it within the context of basin lunar geology (highlands, mare, breccias, etc.).

Supporting references and/or URLs

File Attachments

IC5_Lunar_TS_McHenry.pdf   99 KB

Digital Object Identifier

Submitted By:

First Name:Lindsay
Last Name:McHenry
Institution:UW Milwaukee