Volcanic eruptions left quadrillions of liters of water on the moon

(ORDO NEWS) — A computer model of the satellite’s ancient volcanic activity showed how ejected water settled on the surface like frost for thousands of years, forming layers of ice many meters below the poles.

It has been proven that there is water on the moon. But its origin, quantity and distribution remain the subject of much research. According to one hypothesis, some of this water may be of volcanic origin.

Using a computer model, scientists from the University of California at Boulder (USA) projected the dynamics of volcanic gases after the eruption: how they enveloped the satellite, flew into space and settled on the surface.

According to the calculations of planetary scientists, at the beginning of its existence, the Moon was a rather hot place. In the period from four to two billion years ago, tens of thousands of eruptions occurred on the satellite. Lava flowed in rivers, spilling over vast areas.

Dark spots on the surface of the moon – they are called seas, lakes and swamps – the same lava that has solidified in the lowlands. But scientists who are looking for lunar water are interested in another product of eruptions – volcanic gases.

A few years ago, experts from the Institute of the Moon and Planets in Houston calculated from the volume of lunar basalt that the ejected gases formed clouds of carbon dioxide and water vapor – a rarefied temporary atmosphere.

The analysis showed that at the peak of volcanic activity, this atmosphere was one and a half times denser than the current atmosphere of Mars.

Volcanic eruptions left quadrillions of liters of water on the moon
The crater of eternal darkness Erlanger is located at the north pole of the moon. Its diameter is about 10 kilometers. The sun’s rays illuminate only its tops. And at the bottom there may be deposits of ice. LRO image

The authors of the new study decided to test whether these clouds could have hoarfrost on the surface. According to scientists, during that period, on average, every 22 thousand years, an eruption occurred on the Moon with the formation of the atmosphere.

A computer model of the dynamics of these volcanic emissions showed that a significant part of the gas and steam escaped into space, but about 41% of the water settled on the surface of the satellite.

“The atmosphere has been thinning for about 1,000 years, enough time for ice to form,” said Andrew Wilcoski of the UC Boulder Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics. “In our imagination, [this precipitation] looked like frost that had accumulated over the centuries.”

Probably, there was so much ice that from the Earth one could see a thin shiny strip on the Moon on the border of day and night. And thick ice caps covered the poles of our planet’s satellite. According to model calculations, about 8.2 quadrillion liters of water could have settled on the Moon over the entire period of eruptions.

“Probably five to ten meters below the surface are thick layers of ice,” says study co-author Paul Hayne , who has long been involved in the study of water on the moon.

Volcanic activity is not the only potential source of water on the Moon. A significant proportion of water could bring asteroids and comets. Also, water could be formed under the action of the solar wind. The study of the amount, distribution and composition of lunar ice will confirm or refute these hypotheses.

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