Credit: CORBIS

Geology 37, 219–222 (2009)

On Earth, volcanic 'fire fountains' burst from the ground, driven by the fizz of carbonated magma rushing up narrow-necked vents. The same spectacular displays occurred on the Moon 3 billion–4 billion years ago, despite big differences in gravity, magma composition and magma viscosity, say Malcolm Rutherford of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and Paolo Papale of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Pisa, Italy.

By studying data collected from lunar samples, the researchers found that gases — primarily carbon monoxide rather than the carbon dioxide of terrestrial magma — form by graphite oxidation in lunar magma at a depth of about 8 kilometres. Modelling the upwelling for lunar conditions, they found that the magma escapes at the surface at about the same speeds as on Earth, and with similar gas volumes.