Carbon Monoxide 'Fire Fountains' Erupted on the Moon

Volcanic 'fire fountains' erupting from the lunar surface, similar to what occurs in Iceland today, most likely were fueled by carbon monoxide gas, a new study shows.

Volcanic "fire fountains" erupting from the lunar surface, similar to what occurs in Iceland today, most likely were fueled by carbon monoxide gas, a new study shows.

Taking advantage of new analysis techniques, scientists re-analyzed the contents of green and orange glass beads discovered in soil samples brought back from the moon by the Apollo 15 and Apollo 17 missions, which took place in the early 1970s.

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"The lunar volcanic glasses are thought to be the product of fire-fountain eruptions, in which a jet of basaltic lava erupts through a vent, spattering droplets of lava that cool quickly to form glass," Bruno Scaillet, with the University of Orleans in France, wrote in an article in this week's Nature Geoscience.

The process is similar to shaking a can of soda and taking off the cap.

On Earth, the gas that triggers fire fountains is typically carbon dioxide or water.

The new analysis of the lunar samples showed that concentrations of carbon and water decreased toward the center of the beads, an indication of degassing. Follow-on studies with computer models show the fire fountains were most likely fed by carbon monoxide gas.

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"It was debated it could be carbon monoxide, but there was no evidence," Brown University lunar scientist Alberto Saal wrote in an email to Discovery News.

Another option is hydrogen gas, but there is not geologic evidence of a fluid rich in hydrogen, he added.

The researchers also point out that the concentrations of carbon in the lunar melts is basically the same as what is found in Earth basalts that erupted from the mid-ocean ridges.

Saal and colleagues previously showed that Earth and the moon have similar concentrations of water and other volatiles, as well as similar ratios of hydrogen isotopes.

ANALYSIS: Volcanoes Erupted 'Recently' on the Moon

The studies have implications for ongoing efforts to determine how the moon formed. The leading theory is that Earth was hit by a Mars-sized object early in its history and that the debris eventually melded together to form the moon. How a common pool of volatiles could have survived the impact has yet to be resolved.

"The volatile evidence suggests that either some of Earth's volatiles survived that impact and were included in the accretion of the Moon or that volatiles were delivered to both the Earth and Moon at the same time from a common source -- perhaps a bombardment of primitive meteorites," Saal said in a statement.

Earth-rise as seen by the Apollo 17 crew while in orbit around the moon in 1972.

On July 16, 1969, Commander Neil Armstrong, Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins launched atop a Saturn V rocket toward the moon. The 8-day NASA mission captivated the planet as Armstrong and Aldrin explored the lunar surface on July 20, supported by Michael Collins who orbited overhead. 46 years after the first successful landing of the Apollo program, we've dug into the NASA archives to find some familiar and some not-so-familiar views of the Apollo 11 mission. All photos and captions can be found in

NASA's Human Spaceflight Gallery


Neil Armstrong leads the way across Pad A, Launch Complex 39 at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., during the Apollo 11 prelaunch countdown on July 16, 1969. Michael Collins follows behind.

The massive 363-feet tall Apollo 11 launched at 9:32 a.m. (EDT) on July 16, 1969, carrying Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins into the history books.

This photo was taken from a door-mounted camera on a U.S. Air Force EC-135N aircraft shortly after launch. The Saturn V second and third stages separate from the spent first (S-1C) stage, which then dropped into the Atlantic Ocean. Recently, the first stage engines were retrieved from the ocean floor by founder Jeff Bezos.

Earth is captured through the Apollo astronauts' camera lens on the way to the moon.

Earth shrinks as Apollo 11 continues its journey.

Aldrin looks into the TV camera during the third broadcast from space on the way to the moon.

The Apollo 11 Command and Service Modules (CSM) are photographed from the Lunar Module (LM) in lunar orbit during the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission.

After descending from the lunar module after a successful landing on July 20, 1969, Armstrong makes a bootprint in the loose lunar regolith. The astronauts' bootprints remain untouched on the dusty surface to this day.

Aldrin descends the steps of the Lunar Module ladder as he prepares to walk on the moon.

Armstrong and Aldrin deploy the American flag outside the lunar module "Eagle" at Tranquility Base in the Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969.

Aldrin prepares to deploy experiments on the lunar surface next to the large lunar module, "Eagle."

Aldrin oversees the deployment of the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package (EASEP), photographed by Armstrong during the crew extravehicular activity (EVA).

Aldrin stands next to one of the lunar module legs.

Armstrong inside the lunar module just after his famous moonwalk.

Collins photographs the returning lunar module with Armstrong and Aldrin inside. Soon after, the lunar module docked with the orbiting Command and Services Modules to begin the journey back to Earth.

Aldrin illustrates the gyroscope principle under zero-gravity conditions using a can of food in front of the TV cameras as the crew travel back to Earth from the moon.

The three Apollo 11 crew men await pickup by a helicopter from the USS Hornet, prime recovery ship for the lunar landing mission, after a fiery reentry and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Mission Operations Control Room in the Mission Control Center, Building 30, Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), showing the flight controllers celebrating the successful conclusion of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission.

The Apollo 11 spacecraft Command Module and the Mobile Quarantine Facility are photographed aboard the USS Hornet.

Left to right: Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, in a 21-day quarantine, are greeted by their wives.

New York City welcomes Apollo 11 crewmen in a showering of ticker tape down Broadway and Park Avenue in a parade termed as the largest in the city's history on Aug. 13, 1969.