The Moon once had an atmosphere that lasted 70 million years before dissipating into space, according to a new study.
Obviously, the Moon doesn't have an atmosphere now. If it did, space agencies around the world would likely do everything in their power to determine if human life could thrive there. However, it may have had one 3 to 4 billion years ago, when its volcanoes erupted, which sent giant clouds of gas above the lunar surface.
The Moon Now
The current Moon is covered with dead volcanoes and dark maria, or plains that consist of hardened lava, as Scientific American reports. To be fair, the Moon does have an atmosphere, but a very thin one. As a result, it's regarded as an exosphere.
The Moon Billions Of Years Ago
Researchers at the Lunar and Planetary Institute calculated amounts of gases spewed by the erupting lavas as they flowed over the surface and found that such gases accumulated around the Moon to form a transient atmosphere.
This atmosphere achieved peak thickness at the height of the Moon's volcanic activity 3.5 billion years ago, according to Dr. Debra H. Needham and Dr. David A. Kring, who led the study that's now published in the Earth and Planetary Science Letters. Needham and Kring analyzed samples of volcanic gases collected by the Apollo mission in the 1970s, learning that magma beneath the Moon's surface billions of years ago contained certain gases such as "carbon monoxide, the ingredients for water, sulfur, and other volatile species."
So in short, enough gases rose up from lavas spewed by lunar volcanoes, and this cloaked the Moon with an atmosphere billions of years ago, and it stayed there for millions of years before disappearing.
Why is this important? Well, officials from the Lunar and Planetary Institute said this discovery may have huge implications for future explorations of the Moon, especially if it might be hiding a source of ice that could aid prolonged lunar explorations.
Humans Know So Little About The Universe
The discovery that our Moon once had an atmosphere is staggering, but it underlines just how little humans know about the universe. If the Earth's closest neighbor remains much of an enigma to humans, it's safe to say there's even little we know of other planets, and by extension, the observable universe altogether.
Space exploration largely dwindled after Apollo astronauts landed on the Moon, but decades later, there are now some grand plans to venture farther — Mars, to be exact. To know the universe is an essential aspect of human evolution because Earth won't be here forever.
Thoughts about the Moon having an atmosphere billions of years ago? As always, feel free to sound off in the comments section below!