Volcanic Activity May Have Shifted Axis Of Moon 3 Billion Years Ago

Posted: Mar 24 2016, 2:55am CDT | by , Updated: Mar 24 2016, 9:48pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Volcanic Activity may have Shifted Axis of Moon 3 Billion Years Ago
Credit: James Keane, U of Arizona

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New research suggests thatthat Moon orbiting our Earth shifted from its original axis billions of years ago.

Most people believe that Earth’s Moon is a piece of rock with no geological activity, but new research suggests something else. It indicates that the Moon may have undergone a radical change in its ancient history.

Scientists have long suspected that two regions on the Moon, one about 6 degrees off the north pole and the other off the south pole, once harbored ice. But that ice boiled off into space a long time ago, indicating that the Moon must have shifted on its axis by nearly 6 degrees over the course of 1 billion years.

“This was such a surprising discovery. We tend to think that objects in the sky have always been the way we view them, but in this case the face that is so familiar to us - the Man on the Moon - changed.” Co-author Matt Siegler from Planetary Science Institute said.

“Billions of years ago, heating within the Moon's interior caused the face we see to shift upward as the pole physically changed positions. It would be as if Earth's axis relocated from Antarctica to Australia. As the pole moved, the Man on the Moon turned his nose up at the Earth.”

Planetary bodies settle into their axis on the basis of their mass. Heavy spots of the planets move them into their equator or center while lighter spots toward the pole. It happens very rarely when a planet shits on its axis and the phenomenon is known as “true polar wander.”

The finding puts Moon into an extremely elusive club of those planetary bodies that are theorized to relocate on their axis and these bodies are Earth, Mars, Saturn's moon Enceladus and Jupiter's moon Europa.

Scientists believe that Earth moved from its original axis because of the movement of its continental plates while Mars shifted on its axis due to heavy volcanic region. And changes in Moon’s axis may have occurred due to the shift of a large, single mantle plume and this volcanic activity led to melt a portion on Moon’s mantle some 3 billion years ago.

“The moon has a single region of the crust, a large basaltic plain called Procellarum, where radioactive elements ended up as the moon was forming," said Siegler. "This radioactive crust acted like an oven broiler heating the mantle below."

Researchers used statistical analysis and computer models to draw the conclusion. The mapping showed that Moon must have lost much of its ice at one point of its history which led the Moon to shift on its axis.

“The maps show four key features. First, the largest quantity of hydrogen is offset from the current rotation axis of the moon by roughly 5.5 degrees. Second, the hydrogen enhancements are of similar magnitude at both poles. Third, the asymmetric enhancements do not correlate with expectations from the current thermal or permanently shadowed environment. And lastly, and most significantly, the spatial distributions of polar hydrogen appear to be nearly antipodal.” Siegler said.

The findings open a door to answer the further deeper questions such as why there is water on Moon and on Earth.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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