Moon may have once had an atmosphere, study reports

New research shows the moon had an ancient atmosphere that lasted some 70 million years before dissipating.
By Dan Taylor | Oct 10, 2017
Old rocks collected from different Apollo missions show that the moon may have once had a thick atmosphere, according to new research published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

This study comes from astronomers at NASA and the Lunar and Planetary Institute who discovered four-billion-year-old volcanic samples on the moon that carried gas components -- such as carbon monoxide -- as well as the ingredients for substances like water and sulfur. Those rocks revealed that ancient volcanoes likely built the moon's ancient atmosphere, which lasted roughly 70 million years.

Once they made that discovery, the team used special calculations to figure out exactly how much gas came from the primeval lava. That showed the atmosphere was at its thickest between 3 to 4 billion years ago.

"This work dramatically changes our view of the Moon from an airless rocky body to one that used to be surrounded by an atmosphere more prevalent than that surrounding Mars today," study co-author Dr. David Kring, a researcher at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, told Phys.org.

These new findings are important because they could significantly impact future lunar missions. Not only does the information give a glimpse into the satellite's past, but it may also shed light on where ice sources sit on the surface. As a result, it could help astronomers uncover ice deposits suitable for long term lunar exploration.

While no future plans are in place, there is no doubt that many officials are interested in further space exploration. The moon is the first step towards that, because colonizing the small body could help lead to deeper space travel.

"We will return American astronauts to the moon not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond," said Vice President Mike Pence, during the first meeting with the National Space Council, according to Newsweek.

Nobody is sure when such actions will take place, but it could be much sooner than many believe. In fact, some scientists estimate that people could be living on the moon by within the next 20 to 30 years.

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