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Volcanoes erupted on the moon a billion years earlier than believed

Scientists had previously believed the moon became “geologically dead” three billion years ago.

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Extreme zoom of half moon as seen at night
(Greens and Blues via Shutterstock)

By Gwyn Wright via SWNS

Volcanoes were erupting on the moon a billion years more recently than previously thought, according to new research.

Scientists had previously believed the moon became “geologically dead” three billion years ago.

However, new lunar samples have revealed eruptions on its surface were still happening two billion years ago.

Since the moon is small and rocky, the heat fueling volcanic activity should have been lost far longer than two billion years ago.

It had been thought larger amounts of water or heat-producing elements inside the moon might have driven eruptions in the late stage of the moon’s life.

However, the new findings throw this into doubt.

For the study, researchers compared lunar samples collected during China’s Chang'E-5 mission last year with samples from the US Apollo missions and the Soviet Luna missions.

They conducted fictional crystallisation and lunar melting simulations to compare the samples.

The team found that the young Chang'E-5-source magma contained more calcium oxide and titanium dioxide than older Apollo magmas.

full moon rising behind the top of the Osorno volcano after sunset with the colors of the blue hour
(Nature's Charm via Shutterstock)

Because these younger samples contained more titanium and calcium, they melted more quickly.

Adding these components to the moon could have reduced the melting temperature of its mantle, in turn triggering the eruptions.

The study’s first author Dr. Su Bin from the National University of Singapore said: ""This is a fascinating result, indicating a significant contribution of late-stage lunar magma ocean cumulates to the Chang'E-5 volcanic formation.

“We discovered that the Chang'E-5 magma was produced at similar depths but 80 degrees Celsius cooler than older Apollo magmas.

“That means the lunar mantle experienced a sustained, slow cooling of 80 degrees Celsius from some three billion years to two billion years ago."

The team say their work is the first viable explanation for why volcanoes remained active on the moon for a billion years longer than previously believed.

The findings were published in the journal Science Advances.

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