Baylor’s student research group received a $260,000 grant from NASA to study volcanoes on the moon.

WACO, TX (KWTX) — The Baylor Planetary Research Group is kicking off the semester with a $260,000 grant from NASA to help research light volcanoes on the Moon.

“There are certain volcanic slicks on the Moon that are a bit unusual,” said Ellie North, a Baylor sophomore and one of the project’s researchers. “Normally we see a lot of darker colors on the Moon… but we kind of saw these strange signatures.”

She said the strange signatures are lighter in color and are called felsic volcanoes. Baylor assistant professor of geophysics Pete James said the extinct volcanoes are composed of rocks that weigh less than most other volcanic rocks on the Moon.

“This is done through a special process on Earth that usually involves water or plate tectonics, and obviously there is no water or plate tectonics on the Moon,” James said. “So it’s a little weird to see these rocks are on the moon.”

The research team aims to provide more information about what rocks are made of for future missions to the Moon. James said he proposed the project to NASA’s Lunar Data Analysis Program and received a grant, which gave students the opportunity to work with NASA and dive deeper into their research.

“At least throughout my high school career, if not before, I’ve always really liked space, and I’ve always really looked at different NASA stuff,” North said. “I’ve always enjoyed just reading about NASA news… so it’s great to be able to work under that.”

James said the group would study the density of acidic volcanoes on the Moon. He said they would study the satellites that orbit the Moon and how the density of these dormant volcanoes changes the paths of these satellites.

The group hopes their findings will help astronauts on their next mission to the moon, which could launch from Space X at McGregor within the next 10 years.

“Space X has a contract for human exploration of the moon and delivery of launch vehicles,” James said. “It is possible that in the next decade or so there will be a Space X spacecraft that will take astronauts to these volcanoes. We have funding to do this preliminary study to better understand volcanoes and find out what the astronauts are going to find.”

James said that this is the largest grant received by one of his research groups. Funds from the grant will go towards some scholarships for students, including North, so they can spend more time doing research. James also said he would fund the group’s attendance at the conference to present their future findings, and the group could partner with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

“It’s basically my job, while I don’t have to worry about work while I’m in school because that’s all,” North said. “Basically, it just gives us the financial space to do the research that we want to do.”

As a student, North said she was also honored to be part of a prestigious research team and help discoveries.

“I am very grateful because I actually went and met with Dr. James in the first semester of my freshman year with just questions about… what should I do and what should I do,” she said. “Doctor. James really just gave me the opportunity to start working here and learn more and more about it.”

She said she hopes to inspire other undergraduate students not to be afraid to ask for more opportunities.

“It’s not really something completely unattainable, and if you want to get something done, it never hurts to reach out to people who can help you,” she said.

The group said they are just starting research, but they are excited about the many discoveries they hope to make.

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