Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


X-rays illuminate the interior of the Moon

Deep lunar magma is too heavy to produce active volcanoes

Contrary to Earth, our Moon has no active volcanoes, and the traces of its past volcanic activity date from billions of years ago. This is surprising, because recent Moonquake data suggest that there is plenty of liquid magma deep within the Moon because part of the rocks residing there are thought to be molten.

Scientists have now identified a likely reason for this peaceful surface life: the hot, molten rock in the Moon's deep interior could be so dense that it is simply too heavy to rise to the surface like a bubble in water. For their experiments, the scientists produced microscopic copies of moon rock collected by the Apollo missions and melted them at the extremely high pressures and temperatures found inside the Moon. They then measured their densities with powerful X-rays. The results are published in the Journal Nature Geosciences on 19 February 2012.

The team was led by Mirjam van Kan Parker and Wim van Westrenen from VU University Amsterdam and comprised scientists from the Universities of Paris 6/CNRS, Lyon 1/CNRS, Edinburgh, and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble.

Five decades after the Apollo missions, the formation and geological history of the Moon still hold many secrets. The astronauts not only returned 380 kg of Moon rocks to Earth but also placed many scientific instruments on the lunar surface. Last year, NASA scientists published a new model for the make-up of the interior of the Moon, using Moonquake data from these Apollo-era seismometers. Renee Weber and her colleagues claim that the deepest parts of the lunar mantle, bordering on the small metallic core, are partially molten, by up to 30 per cent. In the Earth, such bodies of magma tend to move towards the surface leading to volcanic eruptions. If the deep interior of the Moon contains so much magma, why don't we see spectacular volcanic eruptions at its surface?

The driving force for vertical movement of magma is the density difference between the magma and the surrounding solid material, making the liquid magma move slowly upwards like a bubble. The lighter the liquid magma is, the more violent the upward movement will be.

To determine the density of lunar magma, Wim van Westrenen and his colleagues synthesised moon rock in their laboratory in Amsterdam, using the composition derived from Apollo samples as their "recipe". The pressures and temperatures close to the core of the Moon are more than 45,000 bar and about 1500 degrees. It is possible to generate these extreme conditions with small samples, heating them with a high electric current while squashing them in a press. By measuring the attenuation of a powerful synchrotron X-ray beam at the ESRF traversing the sample both solid and molten, the density at high pressure and high temperature could be measured. "We had to use the most brilliant X-ray beam in the world for this experiment because the magma sample is so tiny and confined in a massive, highly absorbing container. Without a bright beam of X-rays, you cannot measure these density variations", says Mohamed Mezouar from the ESRF.

The measurements at the ESRF were combined with computer simulations to calculate the magma density at any location in the Moon.

Nearly all the lunar magmas were found to be less dense than their solid surroundings, similar to the situation on Earth. There is one important exception: small droplets of titanium-rich glass first found in Apollo 14 mission samples produce liquid magma as dense as the rocks found in the deepest parts of the lunar mantle today. This magma would not move towards the surface.

Such titanium-rich magma can only be formed by melting titanium rich solid rocks. Previous experiments have shown that such rocks were formed soon after the formation of the Moon at shallow levels, close to the surface. How did they get deep into the mantle? The scientists conclude that large vertical movements must have occurred early in the history of the Moon, during which titanium-rich rocks descended from near the surface all the way to the core-mantle boundary. "After descending, magma formed from these near-surface rocks, very rich in titanium, and accumulated at the bottom of the mantle – a bit like an upside-down volcano. Today, the Moon is still cooling down, as are the melts in its interior. In the distant future, the cooler and therefore solidifying melt will change in composition, likely making it less dense than its surroundings. This lighter magma could make its way again up to the surface forming an active volcano on the Moon – what a sight that would be! – but for the time being, this is just a hypothesis to stimulate more experiments", concludes Wim van Westrenen.

Claus Habfast | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Earth's magnetic field is not about to flip
25.11.2015 | The Earth Institute at Columbia University

nachricht Autumn gales again drive salt into the Baltic: Third Major Baltic Inflow within 1.5 years.
25.11.2015 | Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

Im Focus: Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism

Heidelberg physicists use ultracold atoms to imitate the behaviour of electrons in a solid

Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...

Im Focus: Climate Change: Warm water is mixing up life in the Arctic

AWI researchers’ unique 15-year observation series reveals how sensitive marine ecosystems in polar regions are to change

The warming of arctic waters in the wake of climate change is likely to produce radical changes in the marine habitats of the High North. This is indicated by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Art Collection Deutsche Börse zeigt Ausstellung „Traces of Disorder“

21.10.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Harnessing a peptide holds promise for increasing crop yields without more fertilizer

25.11.2015 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Earth's magnetic field is not about to flip

25.11.2015 | Earth Sciences

Tracking down the 'missing' carbon from the Martian atmosphere

25.11.2015 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>