NASA Ames Research Center/Bay Area Environmental Research Institute

Thermoluminescence Studies on Frozen Apollo 17 Samples: Temperature Estimates of Shaded and Illuminated Lunar Surfaces

Understanding the thermal and radiation environment of the lunar surface is relevant to the presence or absence of important resources in the lunar soil, such as hydrogen and water and other temperature-sensitive volatiles. These resources are critical for life support, for space propulsion and for power systems. While a few probes have been deployed onto the surface to measure the temperature and radiation environment at that time, the returned Apollo samples do allow us to reconstruct the time-integrated thermal and radiation history at the place the rocks were collected. Studying the thermoluminescence (TL), a process in which light is emitted during heating of a specimen, provides this information using only a few grains of these valuable lunar samples. While the principle of the thermoluminescence mechanism is understood, the fundamental physical constants necessary are not. The research project takes advantage of Apollo 17 samples that have been in cold storage, a unique long-term experiment started by NASA almost 50 years ago. These samples allow us to extract and refine the physical constants governing the TL process. The results will provide more accurate estimates of the temperature and radiation environment of lunar samples already collected, and the ones that will be collected during the next generation of lunar exploration missions, aiding in identifying locations feasible for in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) in support of future human and robotic space flight.

Contact Information: Alexander Sehlke,

Derek Sears and Alexander Sehlke

Derek Sears and Alexander Sehlke (PI)