Carolyn's Daily Posts: 2011

November 26, 2011

The Birth of the Man in the Moon




For planetary scientists, the man in the moon is more than folklore, he is a conundrum. Why, they ask, did almost all of the dark lavas that outline the profile erupt on one side of the moon? The farside is a blank slate nearly devoid of dark lavas.

Planetary scientists began noticing these oddities as soon as the first spacecraft revealed the near absence  of dark lava “seas” or maria on the moon’s farside.

     Geophysicists Marc Parmentier (Brown University) and Shijie  Zhong and Maria Zuber (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) proposed one theory: The interplay of lunar mineralogy and geophysics could have focused volcanism on one side of the moon…

     Analyses of mare rocks returned by Apollo astronauts showed a late start for the main pulse of volcanism that painted the nearside figure: Instead of beginning in the moon’s first couple of hundred million years, when an ocean of magna remained beneath a thin crust, the volcanism set in a half-billion years later and went on for a billion years. And the minerals that had melted to yield these mare lavas had formed near the top of the solidifying magma ocean but somehow had sunk about 500 kilometers before melting. Then Lunar Prospector confirmed that vast subsurface deposits of chemically distinctive rock…KREEP…lie beneath the region of most abundant mare lavas but not elsewhere.

     A plausible account of the man in the moon’s birth would probably have to incorporate these lunar quirks in a single mechanism…


     A plausible account of the man in the moon’s birth…it leaves little romance, and little to the imagination. Perhaps someday it would be interesting to write a story about the birth and life of the man in the moon…and it wouldn’t include melted lavas and chemicals.

     Now that would take some imagination…


Oddities Both Lunar And Martian: Man in the Moon’s Birth, Science Magazine, Vol. 287, 31 March 2000, pp 2402




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