Violent pirouette spun off the moon's water

Violent pirouette spun off the moon's water

in Brief E Brun LEAD often gets a bad press. But its discovery in ancient Graeco-Roman ink could make it easier to read an early form of publishing ...

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in Brief

E Brun

LEAD often gets a bad press. But its discovery in ancient Graeco-Roman ink could make it easier to read an early form of publishing – precious scrolls buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Some 800 scrolls, part of the classical world’s best-surviving library, have tantalised scholars since they were unearthed in a villa in the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum in 1752. About 200 are in such a delicate state that they have never been read. Unrolling the charred scrolls could destroy them, so people have been X-raying the bundles in the hopes of decoding the writing inside. But progress has been slow – it is difficult to detect the difference between the letters and the papyrus they are written on. Now physicist Vito Mocella of the Italian National Research Council and his colleagues have discovered lead in the ink on two Herculaneum papyri fragments held in the Institute of France in Paris. The presence of lead means that imaging techniques could be recalibrated to pick up the metal, something X-rays excel at (PNAS, “This really opens up the possibility of being able to read these scrolls,” says Graham Davis, at Queen Mary University of London. “If this is typical of this scroll or other scrolls, than that is very good news.”

16 | NewScientist | 2 April 2016

Violent pirouette spun off the moon’s water BALLET doesn’t suit everyone. Molten rock flowing beneath the moon’s crust billions of years ago shifted its spin axis by about six degrees. The pirouette could have cost the moon most of its water. We saw the first direct evidence of water on the moon in 2009, when a deliberately crashed satellite found hydrogen – a proxy for water – in a southern crater. There was more there than at the actual pole, a little more than five degrees away, says Matthew Siegler of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona.

While scrutinising maps of the lunar composition, Siegler noticed that the highest concentration of hydrogen at the north pole is also a few degrees away from the true pole, but in the opposite direction. “They are on exact opposite sides of the moon from each other. It’s as if you drew a line through the centre of the moon from those two points,” he says. This indicates that the moon’s polar axis used to follow that line, but shifted. Based on its direction, Siegler and his colleagues think

the shift was caused when lava flowing up from the lunar interior formed the Procellarum region. The volcanism would have changed the distribution of the moon’s mass, spinning it around (Nature, That pirouette could have cost the moon much of its water. When the poles shifted, frozen water would have been exposed to the sun and evaporated. That helps to explain why the moon is so dry, and suggests that much of the lunar water is leftover from early in its life. Natalie Shuttleworth/Getty

Leaded ink opens up ancient scrolls

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