Planetary Science

Moon's ancient magma plumbing system

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Science  10 Oct 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6206, pp. 205-206
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6206.205-g

Several kilometers below a lunar dark spot called Oceanus Procellarum lies a giant rectangle: the remnants of a geological plumbing system that spilled lava across the Moon 3.5 billion years ago, scientists say. Andrews-Hanna et al. studied density variations on the Moon's surface, mapped by NASA's GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) spacecraft, which spotted the mysterious rectangle. Procellarum is rich in radioactive elements that produce heat; as the rock cooled, the team theorized, it would have cracked, forming rift valleys that later became channels for upwelling magma. Spilled lava created the dark spot, and the weight of that dense material formed a topographic low. The rectangular shape also casts doubt on the decades-old theory that the circular Procellarum region is a crater created by the impact of a large asteroid.

Nature 10.1038/nature13697 (2014).

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