Letter | Published:

Lunar activity from recent gas release

Nature volume 444, pages 184186 (09 November 2006) | Download Citation

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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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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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Affiliations

  1. Brown University, Geological Sciences, Providence, Rhode Island 02912-1846, USA

    • Peter H. Schultz
    •  & Carlé M. Pieters
  2. Planetary Science Institute, 1700 E. Fort Lowell, Suite 106 Tucson, Arizona 85719-2395, USA

    • Matthew I. Staid

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Reprints and permissions information is available at www.nature.com/reprints. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Peter H. Schultz.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05303

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