From The University of Arizona: “Want to see a moon rock? There’s one in downtown Tucson”

From The University of Arizona


Kyle Mittan
News Writer, University Communications

A lunar rock collected during the 1971 Apollo 15 mission is on loan until mid-August to the UArizona Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum. Having the rock, museum staff say, provides visitors with a unique opportunity to see an “unadulterated” moon rock – the largest one NASA loans out to museums.

The rock can be found in the museum’s Mineral Evolution Gallery, the first gallery that guests enter as they leave the lobby. Kyle Mittan/University Communications.

It took six days in space – and more than 18 hours of exploration on the moon’s surface – for NASA astronauts David Scott and James Irwin to collect the 170 pounds of lunar rocks they brought back to Earth as part of NASA’s Apollo 15 mission in 1971.

Anyone in the Tucson area this summer is probably no more than a half-hour car ride from a quarter-pound chunk of that haul.

A moon rock is on display through mid-August at the University of Arizona Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum, thanks to a six-month loan from NASA. It arrived at the museum in early February, as the museum geared up for a grand opening in its new space at the Pima County Historic Courthouse during the annual Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase.

Weighing 4 ounces and measuring about 3 inches long, the rock is the largest sample that NASA loans to museums from its collection at Johnson Space Center in Houston, said Elizabeth Gass, exhibit specialist at the Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum.

The rock can be found in the museum’s Mineral Evolution Gallery, the first gallery that guests enter as they leave the lobby.

“It’s a privilege to have this rock here,” Gass said. “Not every museum qualifies to have one because of the strict security protocols needed to keep the rock safe.”

Mark Kelly, a U.S. senator from Arizona and retired astronaut, was instrumental in helping the museum get the rock, Gass said. During a visit to the museum before its grand opening, Kelly noticed the museum did not have a moon rock and mentioned it to museum staff.

Later, before the museum had even filed an application for a moon rock loan, a NASA official called to ask whether the museum was interested.

Kelly, apparently, had reached out to his colleagues at NASA and “had made a good enough case that they called us,” Gass said with a chuckle. He also helped expedite the application process, she added.

NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, during a visit to the UArizona campus earlier this month, expressed gratitude to Kelly for his help in getting the rock to the museum.

“I think NASA can afford to give away a slice of that rock. Because we’re going back to get more,” Melroy said, referring to the upcoming Artemis missions, which aim to land the first woman and first person of color on the moon.

Apollo 15 was the first of NASA’s Apollo “J” missions which provided astronauts more time to explore the lunar surface than previous Apollo trips. Scott, the mission’s commander, and Irwin, the pilot of the lunar module, made the trip to the moon’s surface; Alfred Worden, the mission’s third astronaut, piloted the command module and remained inside the module as it orbited the moon.

The lunar module touched down in the plains near Hadley Rille, a valley on the moon. The area looks like the foothills at the base of many mountain ranges on Earth, Gass said.

Scott and Irwin spent roughly three days exploring the area. The mission marked the first time humans drove a car on the moon, with the pair logging 17.5 miles in the rover.

The rock that now sits in the museum was collected at Station 8, a site roughly 410 feet from where the lunar module landed. Station 8 is also where the astronauts set up the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package, or ALSEP, which NASA used until 1977 to collect data on the lunar surface.

The rock is a piece of mare basalt-a volcanic mineral found on the flat lowlands of the moon, said Gass, who is also a geologist. Those lowlands, she added, can be seen in images of the moon taken from Earth; they appear as darker, shaded areas, contrasted against the brighter areas, which are mountains. According to NASA, lunar basalts can be as old as 3.3 billion years – older than 98% of minerals found on Earth.

The rock is at least the second moon stone that can be found in Tucson. The Pima Air & Space Museum also has a rock, on permanent loan from NASA, on display.

The Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum stands out from other mineralogy museums as a destination to see both gems and minerals; minerals are inorganic solids that occur naturally in Earth’s crust, while gems are minerals that have been combined with something else for aesthetics.

Although the moon rock is grounded in scientific discovery, there’s plenty to admire about it for those who just want to look at something pretty, Gass said.

“Seeing an unaltered, unadulterated moon rock is really special,” Gass said.

The Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum is located at the Pima County Historic Courthouse, 115 N. Church Ave. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the last tickets sold at 3. More information is available on the museum website.

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As of 2019, the The University of Arizona enrolled 45,918 students in 19 separate colleges/schools, including The University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson and Phoenix and the James E. Rogers College of Law, and is affiliated with two academic medical centers (Banner – University Medical Center Tucson and Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix). The University of Arizona is one of three universities governed by the Arizona Board of Regents. The university is part of the Association of American Universities and is the only member from Arizona, and also part of the Universities Research Association . The university is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very High Research Activity”.

Known as the Arizona Wildcats (often shortened to “Cats”), The University of Arizona’s intercollegiate athletic teams are members of the Pac-12 Conference of the NCAA. The University of Arizona athletes have won national titles in several sports, most notably men’s basketball, baseball, and softball. The official colors of the university and its athletic teams are cardinal red and navy blue.

After the passage of the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862, the push for a university in Arizona grew. The Arizona Territory’s “Thieving Thirteenth” Legislature approved The University of Arizona in 1885 and selected the city of Tucson to receive the appropriation to build the university. Tucson hoped to receive the appropriation for the territory’s mental hospital, which carried a $100,000 allocation instead of the $25,000 allotted to the territory’s only university Arizona State University was also chartered in 1885, but it was created as Arizona’s normal school, and not a university). Flooding on the Salt River delayed Tucson’s legislators, and by the time they reached Prescott, back-room deals allocating the most desirable territorial institutions had been made. Tucson was largely disappointed with receiving what was viewed as an inferior prize.

With no parties willing to provide land for the new institution, the citizens of Tucson prepared to return the money to the Territorial Legislature until two gamblers and a saloon keeper decided to donate the land to build the school. Construction of Old Main, the first building on campus, began on October 27, 1887, and classes met for the first time in 1891 with 32 students in Old Main, which is still in use today. Because there were no high schools in Arizona Territory, the university maintained separate preparatory classes for the first 23 years of operation.


The University of Arizona is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity”. UArizona is the fourth most awarded public university by National Aeronautics and Space Administration for research. The University of Arizona was awarded over $325 million for its Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) to lead NASA’s 2007–08 mission to Mars to explore the Martian Arctic, and $800 million for its OSIRIS-REx mission, the first in U.S. history to sample an asteroid.

National Aeronautics Space Agency OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft.

The LPL’s work in the Cassini spacecraft orbit around Saturn is larger than any other university globally.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration/European Space Agency [La Agencia Espacial Europea][Agence spatiale européenne][Europäische Weltraumorganisation](EU)/ASI Italian Space Agency [Agenzia Spaziale Italiana](IT) Cassini Spacecraft.

The University of Arizona laboratory designed and operated the atmospheric radiation investigations and imaging on the probe. The University of Arizona operates the HiRISE camera, a part of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

U Arizona NASA Mars Reconnaisance HiRISE Camera.

NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

While using the HiRISE camera in 2011, University of Arizona alumnus Lujendra Ojha and his team discovered proof of liquid water on the surface of Mars—a discovery confirmed by NASA in 2015. The University of Arizona receives more NASA grants annually than the next nine top NASA/JPL-Caltech-funded universities combined. As of March 2016, The University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is actively involved in ten spacecraft missions: Cassini VIMS; Grail; the HiRISE camera orbiting Mars; the Juno mission orbiting Jupiter; Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO); Maven, which will explore Mars’ upper atmosphere and interactions with the sun; Solar Probe Plus, a historic mission into the Sun’s atmosphere for the first time; Rosetta’s VIRTIS; WISE; and OSIRIS-REx, the first U.S. sample-return mission to a near-earth asteroid, which launched on September 8, 2016.

NASA – GRAIL Flying in Formation (Artist’s Concept). Credit: NASA.
National Aeronautics Space Agency Juno at Jupiter.

NASA/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.


NASA Parker Solar Probe Plus named to honor Pioneering Physicist Eugene Parker. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Wise/NEOWISE Telescope.

The University of Arizona students have been selected as Truman, Rhodes, Goldwater, and Fulbright Scholars. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, UArizona is among the top 25 producers of Fulbright awards in the U.S.

The University of Arizona is a member of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy , a consortium of institutions pursuing research in astronomy. The association operates observatories and telescopes, notably Kitt Peak National Observatory just outside Tucson.

National Science Foundation NOIRLab National Optical Astronomy Observatory Kitt Peak National Observatory on Kitt Peak of the Quinlan Mountains in the Arizona-Sonoran Desert on the Tohono O’odham Nation, 88 kilometers (55 mi) west-southwest of Tucson, Arizona, Altitude 2,096 m (6,877 ft). annotated.

Led by Roger Angel, researchers in the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab at The University of Arizona are working in concert to build the world’s most advanced telescope. Known as the Giant Magellan Telescope (CL), it will produce images 10 times sharper than those from the Earth-orbiting Hubble Telescope.

GMT Giant Magellan Telescope(CL) 21 meters, to be at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s NOIRLab NOAO Las Campanas Observatory(CL), some 115 km (71 mi) north-northeast of La Serena, Chile, over 2,500 m (8,200 ft) high.

The telescope is set to be completed in 2021. GMT will ultimately cost $1 billion. Researchers from at least nine institutions are working to secure the funding for the project. The telescope will include seven 18-ton mirrors capable of providing clear images of volcanoes and riverbeds on Mars and mountains on the moon at a rate 40 times faster than the world’s current large telescopes. The mirrors of the Giant Magellan Telescope will be built at The University of Arizona and transported to a permanent mountaintop site in the Chilean Andes where the telescope will be constructed.

Reaching Mars in March 2006, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter contained the HiRISE camera, with Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen as the lead on the project. This National Aeronautics and Space Agency mission to Mars carrying the UArizona-designed camera is capturing the highest-resolution images of the planet ever seen. The journey of the orbiter was 300 million miles. In August 2007, The University of Arizona, under the charge of Scientist Peter Smith, led the Phoenix Mars Mission, the first mission completely controlled by a university. Reaching the planet’s surface in May 2008, the mission’s purpose was to improve knowledge of the Martian Arctic. The Arizona Radio Observatory , a part of The University of Arizona Department of Astronomy Steward Observatory , operates the Submillimeter Telescope on Mount Graham.

University of Arizona Radio Observatory at NOAO Kitt Peak National Observatory, AZ USA, U Arizona Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory at altitude 2,096 m (6,877 ft).

Kitt Peak National Observatory in the Arizona-Sonoran Desert 88 kilometers 55 mi west-southwest of Tucson, Arizona in the Quinlan Mountains of the Tohono O’odham Nation, altitude 2,096 m (6,877 ft)

The National Science Foundation funded the iPlant Collaborative in 2008 with a $50 million grant. In 2013, iPlant Collaborative received a $50 million renewal grant. Rebranded in late 2015 as “CyVerse”, the collaborative cloud-based data management platform is moving beyond life sciences to provide cloud-computing access across all scientific disciplines.

In June 2011, the university announced it would assume full ownership of the Biosphere 2 scientific research facility in Oracle, Arizona, north of Tucson, effective July 1. Biosphere 2 was constructed by private developers (funded mainly by Texas businessman and philanthropist Ed Bass) with its first closed system experiment commencing in 1991. The university had been the official management partner of the facility for research purposes since 2007.

U Arizona mirror lab-Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium?

University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2, located in the Sonoran desert. An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why The University of Arizona is a university unlike any other.

University of Arizona Landscape Evolution Observatory at Biosphere 2.