Vast eruptions on the ancient moon may have been larger than those on Earth today, according to a new visualization of a lunar volcanic region's creation.

The video zooms in on Rima Prinz, a channel on the moon that was carved out by a lava flow from a volcanic depression called Vera. This snake-like geographic feature is roughly 50 miles (75 kilometers) long and is located in Oceanus Procellarum, an ancient lava plain about 60 miles (100 km) east of Aristarchus Plateau, a plain with a large crater in it. In the ancient past, eruptions in Vera formed a lake of lava about 1,000 feet (300 meters) deep, according to the NASA video.

"Vera may have formed as a lava lake fed by multiple eruptions of a fire fountain volcano, similar to Mauna Ulu in Hawaii, but vastly larger," NASA officials said in a statement accompanying the video. "Rima Prinz is 100 times deeper, and 10 times longer than, similar channels on Earth."

A new visualization shows the dramatic formation of Rima Prinz, a channel on the moon carved from a lava flow out of this volcanic depression, called Vera.
A new visualization shows the dramatic formation of Rima Prinz, a channel on the moon carved from a lava flow out of this volcanic depression, called Vera.
Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

The visualization came from footage taken by the long-running Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), which captured images at multiple resolutions so that scientists could see the close-up details as well as the geological context for the features. Researchers also incorporated data from LROC's narrow-angle camera images and from its laser altimeter, which measures height.

Geysers of lava were once common on the moon. The moon was likely formed when a Mars-size object crashed into the young Earth. The leftover fragments eventually formed the moon, but the surface was not stable; instead, it was active, with lava fountains erupting regularly on the surface.

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