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According to a new scientific study, Earth’s moon once had an atmosphere, as scientists have uncovered traces of ancient volcanic activity that spewed ‘gas’ above the lunar surface creating an atmosphere that remained in place for 70 million years.
Scientists have found that over a period of around three billion years, the moon experienced an intense period of volcanic activity that resulted in massive amounts of gas being suspended above the moon.
As the gases rapidly rose above the surface, they accumulated faster than they could escape into space, which eventually gave rise to the moon’s atmosphere.
The discoveries drastically change everything we thought about the moon, meaning that it wasn’t always airless as scientists previously thought.
When you look at the Moon, you can easily spot dark surfaces of volcanic basalt that fill large impact basins.
These basalt seas, known as Maria, burst while the interior of the moon was still hot and generated magmatic feathers that sometimes broke the lunar surface, flowing for hundreds of kilometers.
The new study, backed by NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute showed just how much gas arose from erupting lava flows on the moon.
Experts concluded that lunar volcanic activity peaked around 3.5 billion years ago, the time when Earth’s moon had an atmosphere.
Precisely during this time was the moon’s atmosphere the thickest, say, scientists.
Lava seas once filled the moon’s Serenitatis and Imbrium basins around 3.8 and 3.5 billion years ago say, scientists. These areas were explored by Apollo 15 and 17 missions, where astronauts collected samples that recorded the massive eruptions that had taken places on the lunar surface billions of years ago.
Sample analyses of the Apollo missions indicate that magma carried gas components, such as carbon monoxide, the ingredients for water, sulfur and other volatile compounds.
“The total amount of H2O released during the emplacement of the mare basalts is nearly twice the volume of water in Lake Tahoe,” said Dr. Debra H. Needham, Research Scientist of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.
“Although much of this vapor would have been lost to space, a notable fraction may have made its way to the lunar poles. This means some of the lunar polar volatiles we see at the lunar poles may have arisen inside the moon.”
Interestingly, scientists say that once the moon’s atmosphere had formed, it remained in place for a staggering 70 million years, after which it was lost to space.
“This work dramatically alters our view of the moon from an airless rocky body to one that used to be enclosed by an atmosphere more prevalent than that surrounding Mars today,’ said Dr David A. Kring, Universities Space Research Association (USRA) Senior Staff Scientist, at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI).”