January 16, 2021

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New Ages for Old Rocks

Originally published June 29, 2011 LPOD-Jun29-11.jpg
maps from Tomokatsu Morota and others, 2011

Counting craters is a mundane (and boring) task that nonetheless results in information that is critical for understanding lunar history. The older a lunar surface is the longer it has been recording impact cratering events. So lunar scientists count the number of impact craters on an area to estimate its age of formation. The ages determined are called model ages, rather than real ages because the conversion to ages depends on mathematical models of how rapidly the rate of cratering declined through lunar history, what the distribution of impact velocities was likely to have been, and what corrections are necessary becaue the Earth may have gravitationally attracted projectiles that otherwise would miss the Moon. Fortunately, Apollo samples that have been radiometrically dated in laboratories on Earth provide calibration, but we didn't land on lavas of enough different ages to be confident of the calibration for ages younger than about 2 billion years. This chart is the latest attempt to determine model ages for the maria on the western hemisphere of the Moon. It is based on crater counts on the Terrain Camera images of the Kaguya spacecraft, which had better resolution and coverage that Lunar Orbiter IV images used for earlier work. According to these results there are no lavas younger than about 1.2 billion years, in contrast to some previous estimates of ages of 0.8 to 1.0 b.y. Otherwise the results are similar to earlier ones, with the youngest lavas in Eastern Procellarum, and some yellow ones that flowed into the center of Mare Imbrium. There are many things to think about - for example, the top layers of lavas on Imbrium span about 800 million years - it wasn't filled quickly! And the mare material on the floor of Plato is a few hundred million years younger than most of the nearby lavas in eastern Imbrium - I always assumed they were the same age.

Chuck Wood

Related Links
Tomokatsu Morota and others (2011) Timing and characteristics of the latest mare eruption on the Moon.
Earth and Planetary Science Letters; Volume 302, Issues 3-4, 1 February 2011, Pages 255-266.

Yesterday's LPOD: Black Rock Bands

Tomorrow's LPOD: Good Job


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