Monday, July 25, 2011

Rocky Surprises on the Far Side of the Moon

The broad, dark plains on the Moon’s near side, visible to the naked eye, have long been known to be volcanic deposits made of basaltic lava flows.
Now researchers report that in addition to these deposits, the Moon has unusual dome-shaped volcanic
deposits of a different composition on its far side. These rocks are rich with silica, and their origins are still unknown.
The domes are half a mile to three miles across, and some have steeply sloping sides.
Bradley L. Jolliff, a planetary scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, and his colleagues report these findings in the current issue of the journal Nature Geoscience.
They used data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to study the composition and elevation of the domes. Launched in 2009, the spacecraft has a high-resolution camera to captures images of the lunar surface and an altimeter.
The deposits are unusual not only because of their composition and shape, but also because they were formed relatively recently, possibly only 800 million years ago. The older basaltic deposits are at least one billion years old.
“The fact that these are so young, so isolated and an odd composition makes this a head-scratcher,” said Noah Petro, a lunar geologist at NASA who was not connected to the study. “The Moon is not supposed to have surprises anymore — we’ve been to the Moon — yet we are still finding surprises all the time, and that’s amazing.”

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