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Ancient Fire Fountains Once Exploded on the Moon's Surface

First Posted: Aug 24, 2015 04:22 PM EDT
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Scientists may have solved the mystery of how fiery eruptions took place on our moon's surface. Researchers have discovered the volatile gas that drove the eruptions.

"The question for many years was what gas produced these sorts of eruptions on the moon," said Alberto Saal, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The gas is gone, so it hasn't been easy to figure out."

The evidence of explosions come in the form of tiny beads of volcanic glass that can be found on the lunar surface. The researchers carefully analyzed glass beads brought back to Earth from the Apollo 15 and 17 missions. In particular, they looked at samples that contained melt inclusions, which are tiny dots of molten magma that become trapped within crystals of olivine.

So what did they find? It turns out that lava associated with lunar fire fountains contained significant amounts of carbon. As it rose from the depths of the moon, the carbon combined with oxygen to creast substantial amounts of carbon monoxide gas (CO). This CO gas was responsible for the fire fountains that sprayed volcanic glass over parts of the lunar surface.

"Most of the carbon would have degassed deep under the surface," said Alberto Saal, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Other volatiles like hydrogen degassed later, when the magma was much closer to the surface and after the lava began breaking up into small globules. That suggests carbon was driving the process in the early stages."

The findings reveal a bit more about the history of the moon which, in turn, may reveal a bit more about the formation of our own planet.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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