Ancient magma plumbing found buried below moons largest dark spot

first_imgScientists already know that the Procellarum region is rich in radioactive elements that billions of years ago would have produced excess heat. The study team theorizes that as this region cooled, the rock would have cracked in geometrical patterns, like honeycomb patterns seen on Earth in basalt formations, but on a much larger scale. In a study published today in Nature, the researchers propose that these cracks eventually grew into rift valleys, where magma from the moon’s mantle welled up and pushed apart blocks of crust. Lava spilled out and paved over the Oceanus Procellarum, creating the dark spot that is seen today. The extra weight of this dense material would have caused the whole region to sink slightly and form the topographic low that has made the Procellarum seem like a basin.With the discovery, the moon joins Earth, Mars, and Venus as solar system bodies with mapped examples of rifting. There are also similar features near the south pole of Enceladus, the moon of Saturn that is spewing water into space from cracks in an ice shell.Andrews-Hanna and colleagues have made a good case, says Herbert Frey, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, even though the newly described features are surprising. The moon is not big enough to have the same strong convective cooling process that Earth has in its interior, he explains, and ordinarily convection is one of the main mechanisms thought to lead to large-scale rifting. So just what caused the rifting remains unclear. “It just means the moon continues to surprise us,” he says. Frey adds that a remaining mystery is why the rectangular features were found only beneath Oceanus Procellarum. Even if the rifting is explained by the excess radioactive elements, there is still no definitive explanation for why only the near side of the moon ended up enriched.The discovery could also be a death knell for the impact theory for Oceanus Procellarum, an idea first put forth in the early 1970s. A basin there would have been the largest on the moon—larger than the South Pole–Aitken Basin—and second in the solar system only to the Borealis Basin on Mars, which covers the planet’s entire northern hemisphere.Ryosuke Nakamura, a researcher at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, Japan, is still not convinced that an impact can be ruled out. In 2012, he and his colleagues published a paper in Nature Geoscience that found compositional evidence for an impact within Procellarum—a type of pyroxene mineral that is found in other, known impact basins such as South Pole–Aitken and is associated with the melting or excavation of mantle rock from an asteroid impact.In response to the current study, Nakamura says that the features in the southwestern corner of the Procellarum region look to be circular rather than rectangular, and still consistent with an impact. But Frey, who has long been skeptical of the impact theory, says that the features are as clear as day, and not what you’d expect underneath a basin. “That looks like a rectangle to me.” Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe Click to view the privacy policy. Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*) Scientists have found a nearly square peg underneath a round hole—on the moon. Several kilometers below Oceanus Procellarum, the largest dark spot on the moon’s near side, scientists have discovered a giant rectangle thought to be the remnants of a geological plumbing system that spilled lava across the moon about 3.5 billion years ago. The features are similar to rift valleys on Earth—regions where the crust is cooling, contracting, and ripping apart. Their existence shows that the moon, early in its history, experienced tectonic and volcanic activity normally associated with much bigger planets.“We’re realizing that the early moon was a much more dynamic place than we thought,” says Jeffrey Andrews-Hanna, a planetary scientist at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden and lead author of a new study of the Procellarum’s geology. The discovery also casts doubt on the decades-old theory that the circular Procellarum region is a basin, or giant crater, created when a large asteroid slammed into the moon. “We don’t expect a basin rim to have corners,” Andrews-Hanna says.The work is based on data gathered by GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory), a pair of NASA spacecraft that orbited the moon in 2012. Sensitive to tiny variations in the gravitational tug of the moon, GRAIL mapped density variations below the surface (because regions of higher density produce slightly higher gravitational forces). Below known impact basins, GRAIL found the expected ringlike patterns, but underneath the Procellarum region, the mysterious rectangle emerged. “It was a striking pattern that demanded an explanation,” Andrews-Hanna says.center_img Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Country Emaillast_img

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