Past studies had shown that the moon once had on its surface impressive blazing fountains that spewed out lava on a day-to-day basis. But only recently researchers were able to decipher what exactly fueled the lunar proto-volcanism.
A recent study suggests that the moon was a very active environment in its early days. It was a molten-hot world, whose surface was peppered with lava geysers. Hot lava used to bubble up from its depths and erupt in fire fountains very similar to those we can still see on Earth in Iceland.
But for years, scientists were unable to tell what the driving force behind this activity was. A group of researchers from Brown University in Providence say they have the answer: it was carbon monoxide.
“The carbon is the one that is producing the large spectacle,”
noted Alberto Saal, one of the researchers involved in the study.
He also explained that carbon was also helped by water and sulfur, but only in small amounts. The main trigger behind the fiery explosions was carbon, nonetheless.
If that is the case, ancient moon’s composition was very similar to the young Earth’s, scientists claim. Mr. Saal argues that similar concentrations of carbon and sulfur were also present in the primordial magma that formed our planet’s ocean floor.
Scientists came up with the carbon-monoxide-factor theory after studying lunar volcanic glasses. When those structures hardened, they preserved the exact formation and structure of the molten lava that bubbled up to the surface.
Plus, those glasses also contain crystal-like structures called melt inclusions that are crystallized magma with trapped gases inside.
By measuring the levels of gas and magma makeup, scientists drew the conclusion that the young moon was laden with carbon, which mixed with oxygen to form CO when magma was rising toward the surface. Near the surface, where pressures were lower, CO started to push the magma upwards in a bubbling manner.
Mr. Saal likened the process with a can of soda. When you open the can gas escapes from the can because pressure lowers. In a similar manner, magma rises but it gets more bubbles due to the carbon mononxide. And as pressure decreases near the surface, gases escape from the hot liquid and we could see magma virtually fountaining out of the lunar crust.
Researchers used Carnegie’s NanoSIMS ion probe to assess carbon levels in several lunar samples. They were especially interested in volcanic glasses. In those glasses, they were able to find more carbon but the highest concentration of the gas was detected in the tiny blobs of crystallized magma.
Later they used a computer model to simulate how carbon escaped the liquid magma and they found that carbon monoxide burst out first, while other gases such as hydrogen and sulfur escaped last.
Image Source: Wikimedia
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