The search for Terrestrial Analogues is essential for the development of future permanent or semi-permanent lunar bases. Terrestrial Analogues are zones where it is possible to probe not only scientific instruments, but also other astronaut capabilities in an environment that is similar to the geological context, geomorphology, mineralogy, geochemistry, etc. that we can find on Mars, the Moon and even asteroids. This work has focused on a multi-analytical characterization of Peñas de Tao geosite basalts in Lanzarote (Canary Islands, Spain). This characterization starts from a field campaign in which 3000 g of basalt rocks were selected. Subsequently, they were analysed by different techniques to determine their composition at a mineralogical and geochemical level, and the results were compared with data from other lunar simulants and from the Apollo 14 mission. After that, a set of petrophysical tests was carried out in order to determine its physical properties and evaluate its capacity as an analogous material for use in situ as a resource for further geological and astrobiological (future lunar habitability) essays.
A lunar soil simulant can be considered as a type of geological material that is similar to lunar regolith for its mineralogical, chemical, and mechanical properties1. Currently the supply of materials for space missions is very expensive and limits their development2. For this reason, the establishment of a future semi-permanent lunar base will require the use in situ of regolithic material as a resource3. This regolith covers a wide spectrum of uses; from its use for the construction of habitability modules, roads, landing areas … etc., and as a source of supply to obtain other essential resources for the survival of astronauts such as oxygen or water2.
Since in 1990 a group of scientists from the United States developed the first standardized lunar regolithic simulant called JSC-1 (Johnson Space Center), others with different functions and goals have been developed4. According to Zheng et al. (2009)5 some of the regolithic simulants mentioned are MLS-1 (Minnesota Lunar Soil, developed by Weiblen & Gordon, 1998)6, FJS-1 and MKS-1 (developed by JAXA; Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and CAS-1 (developed by the China Academy of Sciences). However, most of these simulants are either already exhausted (JSC-1, MLS-1), or can only be used from an engineering and non-scientific point of view (FJS-1 and MKS-1)5. In this sense, a new lunar simulant, LZS-1, has been developed in Spain. Its mineralogical and geochemical characteristics and petrophysical properties are described in this paper.
Tao geosite7 in Lanzarote (Canary Islands, Spain) was selected for this work. Lanzarote is made up of a basement formed in a continental slope environment and an approximate age of between 66–55 m.a. It was not until 33 m.a ago (Oligocene) when the underwater volcanism began, and 15.5 m.a ago the emergence of the island took place8.
According to Romero et al. (2019)9, and from a chronostratigraphic point of view, the island of Lanzarote has been divided into four volcanic series (Series I, Series II, Series III and Series IV). Peñas de Tao together with Timanfaya which is one of the biggest lava flows in the world10, belongs to the set of historical volcanic eruptions that took place on the island during the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Peñas de Tao (Fig. 1) is located right in the middle of the island, in the vicinity of Tamia Mountain (a horseshoe-shaped eruptive volcanic complex of middle Pleistocene age). In general, the magmatic evolution of the island ranges goes from strongly alkaline and ultrabasic terms in the first series (I, II, III) to alkaline-subalkaline and basic terms11 in the set of historical eruptions (series IV).
Background and lunar analogues
We know that there are three different types of soils on the lunar surface. There are lunar mare, highlands, and mixing zones12. In this work, we identify which region of Lanzarote Island shares the greatest similarities with some of the lunar soil types13,18, according to the contributions of samples from NASA's Apollo missions. After that, we developed one of the two recommended types of lunar regolithic simulants, low-Ti mare basalt and high Ca highland anorthosites5. In this case, we manufacture the low titanium regolithic simulant. The main goals are the in-situ use of lunar regolithic simulant as a resource in civil engineering works (roads, paths, habitation modules, runways … etc.) and due to the low percentage of heavy metals, we can prove it as substrate for growing food14. As secondary goals: the regolithic simulant can be used to test the capacities of the human being to extract its direct resources15 such as: oxygen (to provide life support astronauts), iron, titanium, or chromium (structural elements) and helium (fuel).
To establish the relationship between the study area and the lunar surface we resort to the classification of Neal & Taylor (1992)16 where we can deduce to which landing site our samples correspond according to their content of Titanium, Aluminium and Potassium (Fig. 2). According to Fig. 3 we can establish a direct analogue with the samples from the Apollo 14 mission (Fig. 3). This lunar landing site is known as the Fra-Mauro region and corresponds to a mixing zone located on the border between a mare soil and a highland soil5.
Lanzarote basaltic simulant LZS-1
Material and methods
In the field campaign, 3000 g of basaltic rocks were collected from Tao quarry. From them, to carry out the analyses, 1500 g “fresh” basalt samples that did not show alteration were selected, trying to represent their different textural characteristics (e.g. massive, vesicular). For the sampling, we had the appropriate permits for access to certain exploration areas, thanks to the support of the UNESCO World Geopark of Lanzarote and Chinijo Archipelago17.
In accordance with the results obtained in previous articles18,19,20,21, it was decided to sieve the 1500 g “fresh” basalt samples into two main fractions in order to represent the principal grain size distribution ranges of the lunar soil, in accordance with the most frequent ranges (Table 1). Figure 4 shows two cans of regolithic material. One belongs to the fraction between 63–125 µm (1000 g) and the other represents the fraction < 63 µm (500 g). With regards to the grain shapes, there are mainly angular (irregular) (Fig. 5), matching the results obtained by Katagiri et al. (2014)22 about grain shape characteristics of lunar soil.
For mineralogical and geochemical characterization, we perform the techniques of X-ray diffraction (Bruker D8 Advance diffractometer), X-ray Fluorescence (Bruker S2 Ranger spectrometer), Scanning Electron Microscopy Energy Dispersive X-ray (JEOL JSM-820), Electron Probe Microanalysis (JEOL Superprobe JXA-8900 M) and Mass Spectrometry with Inductively Coupled Plasma (Mass Spectrometer, with ICP ionization source, Bruker Aurora Elite). For the petrophysical characterization we carried out tests to determine the chromatic parameters (MINOLTA CM-700d/600d spectrophotometer). Determination of hardness according to the LEEB rebound method (EQUOTIP 3 Hardness Tester). Determination of surface roughness (TRACEIT optical surface roughness meter). Determination of the speed of ultrasound propagation (PUNDIT from CNS ELECTRONICS, Unit LPF-04-US). Determination of the porosity accessible to water, the real and apparent density, and the compactness. Determination of mercury-accessible porosity, pore size distribution, and tortuosity. Estimation of Uniaxial Compressive Strength (UCS). For the development of the LZS-1, basalt rock samples were first cut into regular shapes and placed in ovens for 48 h at temperatures of 60 °C until constant mass was reached. One third of the samples were reserved for petrophysical tests (superficial hardness, ultrasonic pulse velocity, mercury saturation and Hg porosimetry). The rest (2/3) was taken to a ball mill where 1500 g of regolith simulant were obtained. The sieving of basalt material has been standardized in the ASTM Standard in which the numbers 10 (2 mm), 18 (1 mm), 35 (0.5 mm), 60 (0.250 mm), 125 (0.125 mm) were used. To obtain fractions less than 65 µm, 500 g of the ground material was pulverized in an agate mortar and subsequently passed through a No. 230 (0.065 mm) sieve. Finally, it was stored in two different cans according to the fractions reached (Fig. 4).
Petrography and mineralogy
Texturally, the samples are highly vesiculated, in which the percentage of vacuoles can reach 48% of the total in some cases. Its size is variable. The Tao samples have vesicle diameters from 150 µm to 2.5 mm. Other textures that we can differentiate are the vitreous (hypocristalline), aphanitic and microcrystalline textures.
Mineralogically there are three subclasses of silicates represented (Fig. 6); the nesosilicates: with olivine characterized by their marked relief, straight extinction, high birefringence, and rounded habit; the inosilicates with (clino-ortho) pyroxenes, tectosilicates with the plagioclase group (calcium) and glass principally constituted by pyroxene and plagioclase. On the other hand, there are metal oxides mainly of iron, titanium, and chromium.
Before carrying out any analysis, the samples were cleaned and dried in ovens at 70 °C until reaching a constant mass. After this, 10 g of basalt was crushed and ground for XRD (Fig. 7) and XRF. The rest of the chemical analyses were accomplished on the thin sheets carried out at the Research Support Center of the Complutense University of Madrid (CAI-UCM).
Trace element composition of LZS-1 was analysed by ICP-MS (Table 3) and found to resemble basanite-basalt. Rare earth element (REE) concentrations are shown in Fig. 8 displaying light REE enrichment though no Ce or Eu anomalies. LZS-1 has high ratios of incompatible elements and is enriched in large ion lithophiles (Fig. 8). This suggests that the material comes from the mantle, without differentiation in the magma chamber.
There is no evidence of weathering processes in the minerals after eruptive process. No carbonates, quartz or clay have been found that could indicate that the basalts have been altered.
The physical properties of colour, hardness, ultrasound pulse velocity, density, porosity, and uniaxial compressive strength of LZS-1 have been determined through petrophysical tests. In fact, the values obtained from LZS-1 of density, ultrasound pulse velocity, porosity and uniaxial compressive strength can be compared with a lunar basalt model from Apollo 1420 and with the data obtained from the Fra-Mauro formation27, which they also correspond to the Apollo 14 mission.
Colour was measured with a Minolta CM 700d spectrophotometer and COLOR DATA SPECTRAMAGICTM NX CM-S100W software, using Standard D65 illuminant (standard illuminant of the CIE -Commission International de l´Eclaraige-, equivalent to daylight with ultraviolet radiation and a temperature of colour of 6504 ºK) and a viewing angle or observer angle of 10º (Fig. 9).
The CIE L* a* b* system has been used. Where L* is the attribute that determines the degree of luminosity, brightness, or darkness of a colour. Displays values from 0 (pure black) to 100 (pure white). The higher the value, the lighter, and the lower the value, the darker. a * and b * are the chromatic coordinates: the axis -a *, + a * represents the degree of saturation towards green (-a*) and towards red (+ a *). The -b *, + b * axis represents blue to yellow and C* is the Croma obtained with the Eq. (1).
Hardness (Fig. 10) was measured with the EQUOTIP 3 device according to the LEEB rebound method (EHT, Equotip Hardness Tester).
This measurement is indicative of the surface hardness of the materials used in engineering and has allowed estimations of the uniaxial compressive strength of the samples from the Tao quarry. The results of the uniaxial compressive strength estimation (Fig. 11) were obtained with the Eq. (2).
The density and porosity of the rock were calculated through mercury intrusion porosimetry (Micromeritics Autopore IV, with a maximum pressure of 400 MPa). Density values ranged from 2.8 g/cm3 to 3.0 g/cm3 in all Tao samples. In turn, due to the high penetration of mercury in the rock pores, two porosity values were obtained: microporosity (< 5 µm) and macroporosity (> 5 µm). The results (Table 6) show that the Tao Basalts have a microporosity much higher than the macroporosity.
The comparison between these results and the data from the Apollo 14 mission27 and a lunar basalt model20 appear in Table 7. As can be seen, there is a strong correlation not only in terms of mineralogical and geochemical terms, but also in physical properties. For this reason, the Tao basalts are considered analogous to the lunar surface according to the landing site of the Apollo 14 mission.
A new basaltic simulant from Lanzarote has been developed, which matches with the Apollo 14 lunar soil. Lanzarote is currently being used as a terrestrial analog for different studies, 29 (ESA-PANGAEA, 2022)29. The fabrication of the LZS-1 simulant complements all these activities, opening new research investigations linked to perform additional geological and astrobiological tests (e.g. extraction of oxygen from the basaltic oxides, essays about its potential use as building material and to develop new experiments related to food cultivation on the moon, among others).
This study was carried out in the framework of a scientific and educational Agreement between the Institute of Geosciences (IGEO) and the "Cabildo Insular de Lanzarote". All datasets used and/or analyses carried out and results obtained are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
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Thanks to the Institute of Geosciences and especially to the petrophysics laboratory. A special thanks to the research support centre (CAI) of the Faculty of Geological Sciences at Complutense University of Madrid and to the National Centre for Electron Microscopy. Thanks to the Research project: PGC2018-094814-B-C21 (MCI-AEI/FEDER, EU). Mechanochemistry under controlled pressure conditions: new concepts and applications in Chemistry for its support.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Alberquilla, F., Martínez-Frías, J., García-Baonza, V. et al. LZS-1, Lanzarote (Canary Island, Spain) lunar (Apollo 14) basaltic soil simulant. Sci Rep 12, 16470 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-20960-8