Farside Highlands Volcanism
December 7, 2012
The Compton-Belkovich site was of special interest even before the LRO mission began. Back in 1998 the Lunar Prospector spacecraft, with its gamma-ray spectrometer, measured the global distribution of the element thorium, which has a strong peak in the gamma-ray spectrum because it is naturally radioactive. Although much of the Moon’s thorium, at least as expressed on the surface, lies mostly on the nearside, a terrain between the craters Compton and Belkovich lit up like a bull’s eye (above). This thorium “hot spot” was described by David Lawrence and the Lunar Prospector gamma-ray spectrometer team (see figure), later Jeff Gillis and coworkers noted in looking at Clementine images that a high albedo feature was located near the center of the thorium bull’s eye (see WAC context image above). However, since then, the origin of the hot spot and the nature of the deposits was not known until LRO imaged the site with the LROC Narrow Angle Cameras. Those images revealed numerous volcanic features, some large, and some small, like the little dome seen in today’s featured image. Between the Lunar Prospector and Diviner geochemistry and the LROC images, we are able to determine that these domes are examples of silicic (rich in silica relative to basalt) volcanism. An amazing discovery - the only silicic volcanism on the farside. This is a Composite image showing geochemistry from Lunar Prospector [Jolliff et al, 2011].
Topics: Spaceflight, Planetary science, Exploration of the Moon, Diviner, Planemos, Lunar Prospector, Gamma ray spectrometer, Moons, Spacecraft