My job is to write about exploration technology. I think there may be an implication in there somewhere that this refers to oil and gas exploration technology, but once in awhile it’s fun to see what else is out there.

Apparently the Lunar and Planetary Institute doesn’t make this distinction either because I’ve been invited to not only attend but submit a paper for a February 2012 workshop titled “Early Solar System Impact Bombardment II.” (Unfortunately I had to miss the first one.) I can tell you right now that I won’t be submitting an abstract, but it might be fun to go.

It seems that folks who study the Moon are theorizing, based on information from the Apollo program, that the Moon underwent “late heavy bombardment” or some sort of lunar catastrophe that changed the surface and “thermally metamorphosed” its crust. “Several recent studies have continued to test that concept and explore the implications any bombardment may have for our understanding of lunar evolution,” the announcement states. “It has also been posited to be a factor in the origin and early evolution of life on Earth.”

It goes on to say that the bombardment may be linked to “a dramatic reorganization of planetary orbits.”

This is important science in the space exploration community. A National Research Council report titled “The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon” names a test of the cataclysm theory as a top priority for lunar studies. And results from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) resulted in three separate articles in a recent issue of Science.

One of these papers, by James Head of Brown University, said that many planets and moons closer to the sun exhibit crater scars but that those on Earth heal faster due to wind and water erosion as well as plate tectonics. But those types of impacts could have caused disruptions to the early formation of life.

“The Moon is thus analogous to a Rosetta stone for understanding the bombardment history of the Earth,” wrote Head. “… the lunar record can be used to translate the ‘hieroglyphics’ of the poorly preserved impact record on Earth.”

Head’s team used the LRO’s Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) to characterize differences in “impactor populations.” “The LRO LOLA impact crater database shows that the transition occurred about the time of the Orientale impact basin, about 3.8 billion years ago,” he wrote. “The implication is that this change in populations occurred around the same time as the large impact craters stopped forming and raises the question of whether or not these factors might be related.

“The answers to these questions have implications for the earliest history of all of the planets in the inner solar system, including Earth.”

It’s hoped that the workshop will provide an outreach to bring together diverse components surrounding the topic. Meanwhile, the concept of looking to the sky rather than below the earth for secrets to our planet’s history is an interesting one.

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