Abstract

The Procellarum region is a broad area on the nearside of the Moon that is characterized by low elevations1, thin crust2, and high surface concentrations of the heat-producing elements uranium, thorium, and potassium3,4. The region has been interpreted as an ancient impact basin approximately 3,200 kilometres in diameter5,6,7, although supporting evidence at the surface would have been largely obscured as a result of the great antiquity and poor preservation of any diagnostic features. Here we use data from the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission8 to examine the subsurface structure of Procellarum. The Bouguer gravity anomalies and gravity gradients reveal a pattern of narrow linear anomalies that border Procellarum and are interpreted to be the frozen remnants of lava-filled rifts and the underlying feeder dykes that served as the magma plumbing system for much of the nearside mare volcanism. The discontinuous surface structures that were earlier interpreted as remnants of an impact basin rim are shown in GRAIL data to be a part of this continuous set of border structures in a quasi-rectangular pattern with angular intersections, contrary to the expected circular or elliptical shape of an impact basin9. The spatial pattern of magmatic-tectonic structures bounding Procellarum is consistent with their formation in response to thermal stresses produced by the differential cooling of the province relative to its surroundings, coupled with magmatic activity driven by the greater-than-average heat flux in the region.

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Acknowledgements

The GRAIL mission is a component of the NASA Discovery Program and is performed under contract to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. J.C.A.-H. was supported by grant NNX12AL20G from NASA’s GRAIL Guest Scientist Program.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Geophysics and Center for Space Resources, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, Colorado 80401, USA

    • Jeffrey C. Andrews-Hanna
  2. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz, California 95064, USA

    • Jonathan Besserer
  3. Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912, USA

    • James W. Head III
  4. Planetary Science Directorate, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado 80302, USA

    • Carly J. A. Howett
    •  & Roger J. Phillips
  5. Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston, Texas 77058, USA

    • Walter S. Kiefer
    • , Patrick J. McGovern
    •  & Paul M. Schenk
  6. Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA

    • Paul J. Lucey
  7. Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907, USA

    • H. Jay Melosh
  8. Solar System Exploration Division, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771, USA

    • Gregory A. Neumann
  9. Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139-4307, USA

    • David E. Smith
    •  & Maria T. Zuber
  10. Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington DC 20015, USA

    • Sean C. Solomon
  11. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, New York 10964, USA

    • Sean C. Solomon

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Contributions

J.C.A.-H. performed the data analyses and modelling. M.T.Z. is the principal investigator of the GRAIL mission. All authors contributed to the interpretation of the results and their implications.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jeffrey C. Andrews-Hanna.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13697

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