Scientists Discover Surprising Heat Source Underneath Ancient Volcano on Moon’s Far Side

New findings from scientists using data from orbiting Chinese spacecraft have revealed that the rocks beneath an ancient volcano on the moon’s far side remain unexpectedly warm. The researchers, led by Matthew Siegler from the Planetary Science Institute, have pointed to a large slab of granite, formed from magma in the geological plumbing beneath the Compton-Belkovich Volcanic Complex, as the cause of this unusual phenomenon.

A have a look at posted remaining week within the magazine Nature sheds light on events that befell beneath this extraordinary lunar segment inside the distant beyond. Additionally, it highlights the scientific potential of the data collected by the Chinese space program and the challenges faced by researchers in the US. seeking to use that information due to current restrictions on NASA-China cooperation emphasizes alignment

Dr. Siegler and his colleagues analyzed data from microwave instruments on Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2, two early Chinese spacecraft that are no longer in operation. Despite the limitations imposed by the collaboration restrictions, the researchers were able to access some of the publicly available databases and enlisted the expertise of Chinese scientist Jianqing Feng, who joined the Planetary Science Institute after moving to the United States.

The microwave instruments on the Chinese orbiters provided a unique perspective on the moon, allowing the scientists to measure the heat flow up to 15 feet below the surface. Their investigation focused on the Compton-Belkovich region, which, visually, appears unremarkable.But the area has intrigued scientists for years, ever since Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist David Lawrence discovered bright gamma-ray emissions while analyzing data from NASA’s Lunar Explorer Mission in the 1990s

Subsequent examinations using high-resolution images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter further deepened the mystery surrounding Compton-Belkovich. The images revealed features that resembled a caldera, the remnants of a volcano’s rim, suggesting that the region had preserved its ancient volcanic structure remarkably well over billions of years.

The recent analysis estimated the age of the volcano to be 3.5 billion years old, and the heat flow measurements uncovered something remarkable about the Compton-Belkovich region. The heat flow was significantly higher than average, reaching up to 180 milliwatts per square meter, making it approximately 20 times hotter than the moon’s highlands. This heat corresponds to a temperature of around minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit about six feet below the surface, a significant increase compared to elsewhere on the moon.

To explain these findings, Dr. Siegler, Dr. Feng, and their fellow researchers concluded that the presence of a substantial amount of granite, containing radioactive elements like thorium, was the most likely source of the heat and the thorium gamma-rays observed. This discovery challenges the common belief that granite is scarce outside of Earth’s volcanic regions, where plate tectonics and the presence of water play crucial roles in its formation.

The scarcity of water and absence of plate tectonics on the moon present an intriguing puzzle for scientists. The moon rocks brought back by NASA astronauts more than 50 years ago contained only a few grains of granite. However, the data gathered by the Chinese orbiters suggests the existence of a granite formation over 30 miles wide beneath the Compton-Belkovich region. This revelation prompts researchers to delve into the question of how such a feature could have developed on the moon without the involvement of water or plate tectonics.

Dr. Siegler, emphasizing the significance of the study, expressed the need for geologists to explore the formation of this unique volcanic feature further. He hopes that future missions, potentially conducted by NASA or other space agencies, will be sent to Compton-Belkovich to conduct seismic and mineralogical measurements, providing valuable insights into the formation of the volcano. Similarities to volcanic formations on Earth, such as Mount Fuji and Mount St. Helens, suggest that a plume of hot material rising from the moon’s mantle beneath the crust might have contributed to the volcano’s formation.

For Dr. Feng, the Chinese scientist who collaborated on this research, navigating his scientific career amid the ongoing geopolitical tensions between the United States and China presents its own challenges. With his cutting-edge visa expiring quickly, he is making use of for a new one to keep running in the United States. Dr. Feng remains determined to expand his studies beyond the moon, exploring potential granitic systems on other celestial bodies, including the icy moons of Jupiter.

The discoveries made beneath the Compton-Belkovich region on the moon’s far side have provided scientists with valuable insights into lunar geology. By leveraging international collaboration and innovative approaches to data analysis, researchers continue to unravel the mysteries of our celestial neighbor and the broader solar system.

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