Gas Eruptions Likely Formed "New" Moon Features, Study Says

Kimberly Johnson
for National Geographic News
November 8, 2006

Did the moon just break wind?

Unusually "fresh" features on the lunar surface appear to have been created when gas trapped inside the moon erupted through deep-seated fractures, a new study suggests.

The gas likely burst forth as little as one million to ten million years ago.

That would make the features relatively young, since any time less than ten million years ago is "like yesterday" in comparison to the moon's age, said Peter H. Schultz, a planetary geologist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and lead study author.

The finding could prove that the moon is still an active body, countering the long-standing belief that there has been no major lunar volcanism in the past three billion years.

Reporting in tomorrow's issue of the journal Nature, Schultz and colleagues suggest that such outgassing could be responsible for the formation of four to ten similar sites on the moon—and could still be occurring today.

Colorful Revelation

Scientists have suspected that the moon's D-shaped Ina structure is unique ever since Apollo 15 astronauts took images of the feature while flying overhead in 1971.

(Related photos: the final Apollo mission.)

Because the moon has no atmosphere, space debris easily reaches the surface and continuously forms impact craters—the primary type of new lunar surface features.

"Impacts have ruled the day for anything new on the moon," Schultz said.

But images of the 3.8-square-mile (10-square-kilometer) Ina site show few craters inside the structure and features still sharp with little erosion.

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