Lunar activity from recent gas release

Abstract

Samples of material returned from the Moon have established that widespread lunar volcanism ceased about 3.2 Gyr ago. Crater statistics and degradation models indicate that last-gasp eruptions of thin basalt flows continued until less than 1.0 Gyr ago1, but the Moon is now considered to be unaffected by internal processes today, other than weak tidally driven moonquakes2 and young fault systems3. It is therefore widely assumed that only impact craters have reshaped the lunar landscape over the past billion years. Here we report that patches of the lunar regolith in the Ina structure2,3,4,5 were recently removed. The preservation state of relief, the number of superimposed small craters, and the ‘freshness’ (spectral maturity) of the regolith together indicate that features within this structure must be as young as 10 Myr, and perhaps are still forming today. We propose that these features result from recent, episodic out-gassing from deep within the Moon. Such out-gassing probably contributed to the radiogenic gases detected during past lunar missions. Future monitoring (including Earth-based observations) should reveal the composition of the gas, yielding important clues to volatiles archived at great depth over the past 4–4.5 Gyr.

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Figure 1: Apollo photographs of the D-shaped Ina structure.
Figure 2: Comparison between the age of Ina and selected bright-rayed impact craters on the Moon.
Figure 3: Clementine colour-ratio composite of the Ina structure and its surrounding region.
Figure 4: The ageing of lunar soils revealed by band strength and albedo.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge S. Posin for his assistance in performing some of the crater statistics. Author Contributions P.H.S. made the observations, acquired relevant supporting data, and led the writing of the paper; M.I.S. performed the spectral analysis; M.I.S. and C.M.P. contributed to the writing of the paper.

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Correspondence to Peter H. Schultz.

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Schultz, P., Staid, M. & Pieters, C. Lunar activity from recent gas release. Nature 444, 184–186 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05303

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