Can’t go to the moon with NASA? Mistastin crater in Canada is the next best thing.

The Mistastin crater on Earth contains large amounts of bright white rock on most of the moon’s surface.

Canadian astronaut Joshua Kutryk and NASA astronaut Matthew Dominick climb Discovery Hill in Mistastin crater.
Canadian astronaut Joshua Kutryk and NASA astronaut Matthew Dominick climb Discovery Hill in Mistastin crater. (Photo by Gordon Osinski/Photo by Gordon Osinski)

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Most of us will never go to the moon, but we have the best option in our backyard: Canada. Between the ice hockey, maple syrup, and offbeat courtesy, the country also boasts one of the best craters for studying the moon without hopping on a spaceship.

You may have never heard of Mistastin crater in the northern part of Newfoundland and Labrador (and I imagine many Canadians would forgive you, huh?), but there are a few reasons why it’s a good match for the moon.

Like most of my love life, the remote crater location is cut off from most humans and mimics the loneliness felt on the moon; the structure is similar to what you would find in many lunar craters; and the area contains rare rocks that are eerily similar to those astronauts find on the moon.

Those qualities make it a suitable training ground for prospective NASA Artemis astronauts. mission, which plans to land astronauts on the moon as early as 2025. NASA on Wednesday took a significant step toward returning to the moon and thrown out an uncrewed test flight called Artemis I, which will not land on the surface but will remain in lunar orbit for up to 25 1/2 days to demonstrate that the rocket and spacecraft can fly safely.

“This crater in Labrador wasn’t even known to be a crater during the Apollo missions,” said Gordon Osinski, a Western Canada University planetary geologist who has guided astronauts around the crater. “I would love to see all the astronauts who eventually walk on the moon come to Mistastin.”

Mistastin, known locally as Kamestastin, is located on the traditional and spiritual hunting grounds of the Mushuau Innu First Nation and requires their approval to visit.

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The crater is essentially in the “middle of nowhere,” said planetary geologist Cassandra Marion, who has been to the site six times. There is no formal strip of runway, and visitors typically land in a small, unpressurized cargo plane on a brush-covered gravel area, if there isn’t a large rock in the way. It is often rainy and windy. When it’s not windy, there are a lot of biting black flies.

Located in the Canadian Arctic, the rugged terrain is a mix of taiga and tundra. Black spruce and alder live at lower elevations, while moss appears near riverbeds and at higher elevations. And then there are delicious little blueberries everywhere on the tundra. If you don’t watch where you sit, Marion said you can wake up with a “purple butt.”

“She’s a cruel lover, in a way, but she’d come back,” Marion said. “It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. You feel like you’re the only one there for miles at a time.”

In September, Marion and Osinski took two astronauts to Mistastin crater for training in geology and to identify rocks they might see on the moon. Many of the rocks can be accessed through outcrops or cliffs that emerged millions of years ago.

Mistastin crater was formed when an asteroid crashed about 36 million years ago, leaving a sizeable 28-kilometre dent in the ground that is seen today. Osinski said craters this large, like this one, are called “complex craters” and are common on the moon’s surface.

The complex craters are shallower and flatter, rather than a bowl-shaped depression like the one in Arizona. meteor crater where astronauts also train. Like many craters in the lunar complex, Mistastin also has a mountain in the middle called the central peak.

“This crater in Labrador is not just a complex impact crater, it’s relatively well preserved,” Osinski said. “I’ve been on it many times and it’s still great when you walk up the hill to the edge and then literally look at this huge hole in the ground.”

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We know that being in the Mistastin crater is not exactly Like the moon. Unlike the moon, we have wind, water, and WiFi. In fact, modern Mistastin may not appear to resemble the moon because it contains a lake (spanning about half the size of the initial impact crater), probably the result of drainage from glaciers from the last Ice Age. But don’t let the lake fool you.

A great similarity with our lunar friend lies in its rocks. It is one of two craters on Earth that contain large amounts of a rock called anorthosite. The other is the significantly eroded Manicouagan impact structure in Quebec, making the much younger and better-preserved Mistastin crater a preferred choice for research and astronaut training.

While anorthosite is rare on Earth, it is common on the lunar surface. You may have never uttered its name, but you’ve seen it every time you look up at the moon: The rock is the light-colored, highly reflective parts widely seen on the moon’s surface called the lunar highlands.

“Part of the reason we see so much around the moon is the way the moon formed,” said Julie Stopar, a lunar geologist with the Universities Space Research Association’s Lunar and Planetary Institute.

Compared to our home planet, the moon’s surface was sculpted primarily through impact craters and volcanism.

According to a popular formation theory, the moon formed when a Mars-sized body slammed into a young Earth near the beginning of our solar system’s formation some 4.6 billion years ago. Stopar said that hot debris around Earth coalesced on the moon, covering the young moon in an ocean of magma: “basically just lava, lava everywhere.”

In a simplified explanation, Stopar said that as the surface of the magma ocean cooled over time, different minerals and rocks began to crystallize. The denser materials sank and the lighter materials floated to the top to essentially become the moon’s surface. A predominant mineral that floated to the surface was anorthite, which is the predominant component in anorthosite rock.

The origin story of anorthosite on Earth is more complicated and not as well understood, said Marion, who is a science advisor at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. research suggests anorthosite probably also formed due to separation of lighter crystals in magma, but deep within our mantle. As the magma slowly cools and crystallizes, the less dense mineral crystals separate from the denser materials and solidify to form anorthosite. The rock rose to the surface through erosion and plate tectonic activity.

So the fact that an asteroid has just created a crater in this rare anorthosite-rich area? Well, that’s the luck of nature.

The collusion brought high temperatures and pressures, which essentially fractured the rocks, breaking them apart and melting them. Marion said the effects of the high-velocity impact are similar to a large impact on the moon.

“The way the rocks have changed is similar to how they would have changed on the moon after an impact,” Marion said.

Marion points out that anorthosite is present in this region of Labrador, even if you can’t go to the crater itself.

Astronauts traveling to the moon will photograph various types of rocks, including molten rock, and provide notes to help researchers like Osinski return to Earth.

“They can’t bring back all the rocks they see. We want them to do that mental sorting of, ‘Okay, I have 100 rocks in front of me and I can bring two.’ [and] essentially, how do you go about picking that in real time?” Osinski said.

Stopar said that if astronauts can bring back more moon rocks, then researchers can date craters on the moon and create a better geological history of our neighbor and the floating debris at the beginning of our solar system. She said we can also learn how much water was delivered to Earth and the Moon by comets and asteroids and any challenges to life at the time.

“I’m really excited to see this type of exploration taking place,” said Stopar, who is a member of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission team. “Scientifically, I know it’s going to be great because every time we get samples from the moon, we’re going to learn a lot more about it. Even today, we are still learning a lot about the moon from samples that were brought back 50 or 60 years ago.”

One Comment on “Can’t go to the moon with NASA? Mistastin crater in Canada is the next best thing.”

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