New findings from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) suggest that the moon's volcanic activity slowed gradually, including activity in geologically recent times. Previous research thought that lunar volcanism ended between one and 1.5 billion years ago, but the new findings provide evidence of young lunar volcanism much more recently.
"This finding is the kind of science that is literally going to make geologists rewrite the textbooks about the moon," John Keller, LRO project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. NASA said that the findings have "major implications" for scientists' conceptions about the temperature of the moon's interior.
The study, published Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience, analyzed the LRO's recent discoveries of young volcanic deposits, a.k.a. "irregular mare patches," on the moon. Some of the rock deposits may be less than 100 million years old, which would place the volcanism in the Cretaceous period, while dinosaurs were alive. The scientists estimate that some of the deposits could be less than 50 million years old.
Researchers at Arizona State University in Tempe and Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster in Germany found more than 70 irregular mare patches, thanks to the LRO's camera. The amount of features the researchers discovered suggests that "late-stage volcanic activity was not an anomaly, but an important part of the moon's geologic history," according to NASA.