Above: Artist rendering of the LRO orbiting the Moon.
New evidence gathered by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) suggests volcanic activity on the Moon was still occurring during the age of the dinosaurs. The discovery is a significant shift in the geological understanding of the Moon, and implies that volcanic activity gradually slowed over time, instead of abruptly stopping about 1 billion years ago as previously thought.
The LRO evaluated specific rock formations, dating them to about 100 million years old. A well-studied lunar mare (basaltic lava plain that formed during a volcanic eruption) known as ‘Ina’ was dated to about 50 million years, and LRO’s imagery found many more geologically similar features suggesting volcanic activity was widespread around the same time.
“This finding is the kind of science that is literally going to make geologists rewrite the textbooks about the Moon,” said John Keller, LRO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
The discovery changes the understanding of the Moon’s interior, and researchers are now reevaluating their view of the Moon’s interior temperature. The findings will also spur further lunar missions – robotic and manned – to continue studying the young volcanic features, according to Mark Robinson, LROC (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera) principal investigator at Arizona State University.