When you watch the Moon, either in images or live, through a telescope, you might see some odd designs on its surface. Those bright and undulating bizarre models are called lunar swirls and puzzled the astronomers for years. Now, fortunately, the scientists came up with an explanation for those mysterious patterns on the Moon’s surface.
Thought to occur because of powerful, localized magnetic fields, those bizarre designs are now believed to be caused by underground lava tubes.
Although the scientists know about these lunar swirls since the Apollo 15 and 16 missions, which mapped the lunar magnetic field and provided astronomers with the necessary data to explore the phenomenon even further, the mysterious patterns on the Moon’s surface have baffled the researchers ever since.
At higher altitudes, the lunar swirls are not as elaborate and pronounced than those at lower heights on the Moon’s surface. On the other hand, there are magnetic fields on the Moon where the lunar swirls do not occur.
Scientists finally explained the mysterious patterns on the Moon’s surface, known as lunar swirls
“But the cause of those magnetic fields, and thus of the swirls themselves, had long been a mystery,” explained the planetary scientist Sonia Tikoo from Rutgers University in New Brunswick. “To solve it, we had to find out what kind of geological feature could produce these magnetic fields – and why their magnetism is so powerful,” the researcher added.
After analyzing the results of computer modeling, the scientists observed that lunar swirls are always close or right above small, magnetic objects beneath the Moon’s surface. And, as the researchers said, underground lava tubes or lava dikes produced by the past lunar volcanic activity fit the description.
When the Moon is heated to over 600 degrees Celsius in the presence of a magnetic field, some minerals in lunar rocks break down releasing iron. The iron would then become magnetized in the presence of a magnetic field and would move in the direction of that field. And that’s how the mysterious patterns on the Moon’s surface occur.
“No one had thought about this reaction regarding explaining these unusually strong magnetic features on the Moon. This was the final piece in the puzzle of understanding the magnetism that underlies these lunar swirls,” concluded Sonia Tikoo.
Jasmine holds a Master’s in Journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto and writes professionally in a broad variety of genres. She has worked as a senior manager in public relations and communications for major telecommunication companies, and is the former Deputy Director for Media Relations with the Modern Coalition. Jasmine writes primarily in our LGBTTQQIAAP and Science section.