Nature2014-10-08 3:39 PM

Structure and evolution of the lunar Procellarum region as revealed by GRAIL gravity data



Abstract

The Procellarum region is a broad area on the nearside of the Moon that is characterized by low elevations1, thin crust2, and high surface concentrations of the heat-producing elements uranium, thorium, and potassium3, 4. The region has been interpreted as an ancient impact basin approximately 3,200 kilometres in diameter5, 6, 7, although supporting evidence at the surface would have been largely obscured as a result of the great antiquity and poor preservation of any diagnostic features. Here we use data from the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission8 to examine the subsurface structure of Procellarum. The Bouguer gravity anomalies and gravity gradients reveal a pattern of narrow linear anomalies that border Procellarum and are interpreted to be the frozen remnants of lava-filled rifts and the underlying feeder dykes that served as the magma plumbing system for much of the nearside mare volcanism. The discontinuous surface structures that were earlier interpreted as remnants of an impact basin rim are shown in GRAIL data to be a part of this continuous set of border structures in a quasi-rectangular pattern with angular intersections, contrary to the expected circular or elliptical shape of an impact basin9. The spatial pattern of magmatic-tectonic structures bounding Procellarum is consistent with their formation in response to thermal stresses produced by the differential cooling of the province relative to its surroundings, coupled with magmatic activity driven by the greater-than-average heat flux in the region.


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