Lunar Surface - The Lunar Magma Ocean

The Lunar Magma Ocean

The first rocks brought back by Apollo 11 were basalts. Although the mission landed on Mare Tranquillitatis, a few millimetric fragments of rocks coming from the highlands were picked up. These are composed mainly of plagioclase feldspar; some fragments were composed exclusively of anorthositic plagioclase. The identification of these mineral fragments led to the bold hypothesis that a large portion of the Moon was once molten, and that the crust formed by fractional crystallization of this magma ocean.

A natural outcome of the giant impact event is that the materials that reaccreted to form the Moon must have been hot. Current models predict that a large portion of the Moon would have been molten shortly after the Moon formed, with estimates for the depth of this magma ocean ranging from about 500 km to full moon melting. Crystallization of this magma ocean would have given rise to a differentiated body with a compositionally distinct crust and mantle and accounts for the major suites of lunar rocks.

As crystallization of the lunar magma ocean proceeded, minerals such as olivine and pyroxene would have precipitated and sank to form the lunar mantle. After crystallization was about three-quarters complete, anorthositic plagioclase would have begun to crystallize, and because of its low density, float, forming an anorthositic crust. Importantly, elements that are incompatible (i.e., those that partition preferentially into the liquid phase) would have been progressively concentrated into the magma as crystallization progressed, forming a KREEP-rich magma that initially should have been sandwiched between the crust and mantle. Evidence for this scenario comes from the highly anorthositic composition of the lunar highland crust, as well as the existence of KREEP-rich materials.

Read more about this topic:  Lunar Surface

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