Unique volcanic domes of Gruithuisen

Seen here are two volcanic domes which are unlike most other places on the Moon in terms of their composition.

The unique (nonmare) volcanic domes of Gruithuisen (Gamma and Delta), as captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s (LRO) Wide Angle Camera (WAC). Source: LROC blog

Until a couple of billion years ago, the Moon was a volcanically active place, the solidified lava plains of Maria (plural for Mare)  being the most prominent sign. Most of this volcanism was basaltic in nature, but today’s featured image is different. Stretching about 20 km across each, these domes are formed of different kind of volcanic material!

It is from observations of these domes via Earth-based telescopes and past lunar orbiters, specifically Lunar Prospector and Clementine, that we know the domes are composed of material distinct from rest of the lunar surface. Recent data from the Diviner instrument on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s (LRO) confirmed that the volcanic magma that formed these domes were silicic (not basaltic) in nature.

What are the mechanisms that create such types of domes rich in silica on the Moon? Nobody knows! Due to their unique nature, they are a high-priority target for future lunar exploration.



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