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Space Volcanoes: Young Moon Was Hot and Unpredictable

Oct 14, 2014 11:28 AM EDT

The Moon was likely still volcanically active, even in its adolescence, researchers using NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) have found. New evidence indicates that unlike the formation of other natural satellites, the Moon did not cool immediately after its formation, but remained a roiling volcanic land for some time.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Nature Geoscience, which details how a billion years ago, the Moon's volcanic activity did not abruptly stop.

"This finding is the kind of science that is literally going to make geologists rewrite the textbooks about the moon," John Keller, the LRO project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a recent statement.

Nature World News previously reported how a recent study has determined that the Moon's distinctive craters that make up "the man on the Moon" were likely formed by an upwelling magma plume. However, when exactly this occurred remains a mystery.

Now, this new work has revealed that it could have occurred more recently than most experts expected.

The LRO reportedly observed scores of rock deposits that are likely products of volcanic activity, and yet these deposits are estimated to be less than 100- or even 50-million years old - the heyday for dinosaur life on Earth.

That means that when toothy king lizards were stomping around terrorizing the Earth, a Moon may have glowed in the night sky with some of its own volcanic light.

However, it's important to note that the geological features that defend this new theory are too small to see from Earth, averaging less than a third of a mile across.

In contrast, the vast volcanic plains that surround these distinctive regions are often attributed to volcanic activity that started over three billion years ago and ended roughly one billion years ago - when a quick-cooling of the newly formed Moon was thought to have occurred.

However, "the existence and age of the irregular mare patches tell us that the lunar mantle had to remain hot enough to provide magma for the small-volume eruptions that created these unusual young features," added Sarah Braden, the study's lead author.

She says that these features show we certainly haven't studied everything there is to study on the Moon, and they warrant future investigation.

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