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Complex explosive volcanic activity on the Moon within Oppenheimer crater

July 31, 2016

Oppenheimer Crater is a floor-fractured crater located within the South Pole-Aitken basin on the Moon, and exhibits more than a dozen localized pyroclastic deposits associated with the fractures. Localized pyroclastic volcanism on the Moon is thought to form as a result of intermittently explosive Vulcanian eruptions under low effusion rates, in contrast to the higher-effusion rate, Hawaiian-style fire fountaining inferred to form larger regional deposits. We use Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera images and Diviner Radiometer mid-infrared data, Chandrayaan-1 orbiter Moon Mineralogy Mapper near-infrared spectra, and Clementine orbiter Ultraviolet/Visible camera images to test the hypothesis that the pyroclastic deposits in Oppenheimer crater were emplaced via Vulcanian activity by constraining their composition and mineralogy. Mineralogically, we find that the deposits are variable mixtures of orthopyroxene and minor clinopyroxene sourced from the crater floor, juvenile clinopyroxene, and juvenile iron-rich glass, and that the mineralogy of the pyroclastics varies both across the Oppenheimer deposits as a whole and within individual deposits. We observe similar variability in the inferred iron content of pyroclastic glasses, and note in particular that the northwest deposit, associated with Oppenheimer U crater, contains the most iron-rich volcanic glass thus far identified on the Moon, which could be a useful future resource. We propose that this variability in mineralogy indicates variability in eruption style, and that it cannot be explained by a simple Vulcanian eruption. A Vulcanian eruption should cause significant country rock to be incorporated into the pyroclastic deposit; however, large areas within many of the deposits exhibit spectra consistent with high abundances of juvenile phases and very little floor material. Thus, we propose that at least the most recent portion of these deposits must have erupted via a Strombolian or more continuous fire fountaining eruption, and in some cases may have included an effusive component. These results suggest that localized lunar pyroclastic deposits may have a more complex origin and mode of emplacement than previously thought.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2016
Title Complex explosive volcanic activity on the Moon within Oppenheimer crater
DOI 10.1016/j.icarus.2016.02.007
Authors Kristen A Bennett, Briony H. N. Horgan, Lisa R. Gaddis, Benjamin T Greenhagen, Carlton C. Allen, Paul O Hayne, James F. Bell, David A. Paige
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Icarus
Series Number
Index ID 70176136
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Astrogeology Science Center

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