Fountains of fire on the moon: Mystery solved

As U.S. scientists revisited the analyzing of the contents of green and orange glass beads in a soil sample from the moon brought back by the Apollo 15 and Apollo 17 missions.

“The lunar volcanic glasses are thought to be the product of fire-fountain eruptions, in which a jet of basaltic lava erupts through a vent, spattering droplets of lava that cool quickly to form glass,” writes Bruno Scaillet of the University of Orleans in France in a commentary on the research that appears in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Experts are now surmising that the erupting fire on the lunar surface was most likely fueled by carbon monoxide gas which could be more easily relayed as the process of shaking a can of soda before taking off the cap. On Earth, these types of fire fountains are often ignited by carbon dioxide or water, according to ABC Science Online.

When scientists, led by Alberto Saal from Brown University, revisited the analysis of the lunar samples from the 1970’s missions, it revealed concentrations of carbon and water decreased closer to the centre of the beads which is an indication of degassing. And as the team investigated further, computer models showed that the fire fountains were most likely fed by carbon monoxide gas.

“It was debated it could be carbon monoxide, but there was no evidence,” says Saal.

These studies that show that the Earth and the moon have similar concentrations of water and other volatiles and similar hydrogen isotopes has opened up a door to studies that have had an ongoing effort to determine how the moon was formed initially.

So far, the leading theory is that Earth was hit by a Mars-sized object very early on in its history that led to debris melding together to form the moon.

“The volatile evidence suggests that either some of Earth’s volatiles survived that impact and were included in the accretion of the Moon or that volatiles were delivered to both the Earth and Moon at the same time from a common source — perhaps a bombardment of primitive meteorites,” says Saal.

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