Magnetic Sorting of the Regolith on the Moon: Lunar Swirls

Monday, 15 December 2014: 9:48 AM
Carle M Pieters1, Ian Garrick-Bethell2 and Doug Hemingway2, (1)Brown University, Providence, RI, United States, (2)University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA, United States
All of the mysterious albedo features on the Moon called “lunar swirls” are associated with magnetic anomalies, but not all magnetic anomalies are associated with lunar swirls [1]. It is often hypothesized that the albedo markings are tied to immature regolith on the surface, perhaps due to magnetic shielding of the solar wind and prevention of normal space weathering of the soil. Although interaction of the solar wind with the surface at swirls is indeed affected by the local magnetic field [2], this does not appear to result in immature soils on the surface. Calibrated spectra from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper [M3] (in image format) demonstrate that the high albedo markings for swirls are simply not consistent with immature regolith as is now understood from detailed analyses of lunar samples [eg 3]. However, M3 data show that the high albedo features of swirls are distinct and quite different from normal soils (in both the highlands and the mare). They allexhibit a flatter continuum across the near-infrared, but the actual band strength of ferrous minerals shows little (if any) deviation [4]. Recent analyses of magnetic field direction at swirls [5] mimic the observed albedo patterns (horizontal surface fields in bright areas, vertical surface fields in dark lanes). When coupled with the optical properties of magnetic separates of lunar soils [6] and our knowledge that the magnetic component of the soil results from space weathering [3,6], we propose a new and very simple explanation for these enigmatic albedo markings: the lunar swirls result from magnetic sorting of a well developed regolith. With time, normal gardening of the soil over a magnetic anomaly causes some of the dark magnetic component of the soil to be gradually removed from regions (high albedo areas) and accumulated in others (dark lanes). We are modeling predicted sorting rates using realistic rates of dust production. If this mechanism is tenable, only the origin of these magnetic anomalies (their magnitude, size, orientation, and depth) remains to be resolved.

Refs: 1. Blewett, DT et al. 2011, JGR , 116. 2. Wieser, M et al. 2010, GRL 37. 3. Taylor, LA et al., 2001 & 2010 JGR; Pieters, CM et al., 2000, MaPS. 4. Pieters et al., 2014, LPSC45 1408. 5. Hemingway, D., and I. Garrick-Bethell 2012, JGR, 117. 6. Adams, JB and TB McCord 1973, 4th LPSC. Cosmochim. Acta, 1, 163-177.