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Ancient volcanos once gave the Moon an atmosphere, scientists say

Thanks to the fact that it never leaves Earth’s side, the Moon has been the subject of scientific curiosity and study for thousands of years, but even so, we’re still learning new things about it. Now, a new study revealed that the Moon once had something it has long since lost: an atmosphere.

The research, which was published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, show that the ancient volcanos that were once active on the Moon’s surface shot gasses into the sky above the lunar surface which settled into a crude atmosphere before they could dissipate. In fact, the atmosphere that once surrounded the Moon was more significant than the one we see around Mars in the present day.

The evidence of volcanic eruptions on the Moon is visible today, and our nearest neighbor owes much of its black-and-white appearance to the volcanic material that covers large areas of its surface. Some 3.5 billion years ago, that regular volcanic activity would have given the Moon a visible atmosphere made up of gasses such as carbon monoxide. Water was also released, which would have found its way into space or settled on the Moon’s poles, according to the research.

Scientists from the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and the Lunar Planetary Institute made the discovery by calculating how much gas would have been released as a result of the Moon’s volcanic activity and active lava flow on its surface.

The ancient Moon wouldn’t have been a very pleasant place to spend your day, but it did stick around for an estimate time period of about 70 million years before dissipating and leaving the Moon looking a lot like what we see today. The work could help inform further exploration of the Moon, especially if NASA intends to examine the potential for harvesting lunar resources for deep-space missions.