A large mass of unknown material has been discovered on the largest crater on the Moon and scientists aren't sure what it is. "That's roughly how much unexpected mass we detected", said lead author Peter B. James, Ph.D., assistant professor of planetary geophysics in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences.
Earth's moon is hiding an enormous secret on its storied dark side.
Before you go imagining a mysterious subterranean civilization of Moon Men hiding out below the lunar surface, that's not exactly what scientists have in mind.
Researchers say it could be a huge lump of metal from the asteroid that formed the South Pole-Aitken basin.
Researchers from Baylor University in Texas used data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) missions to develop this new hypothesis on the origins of the basin. At about 2,000 km wide the South Pole-Aitken basin is the largest crater known to scientists, with the newly-discovered mass underneath it being large enough to affect the moon's gravity. If the mass was produced by an impact, its location around 400 kilometers southeast of the crater's center could help improve our knowledge of how impacts form craters, according to the paper. Beneath this basin lies a odd anomaly-an excess of mass extending at least 300 kilometers down, more than 10 times the depth of the Earth's crust.
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"Whatever it is, wherever it came from, [it's weighing down the basin floor ]". After 4 billion years, the iron-nickel remains of the asteroid would have been dispersed throughout the mantle if the moon was geologically active for any significant period of time.
It could also be a concentration of dense oxides from the last stage of lunar magma ocean solidification, according to the researcher.
"The South Pole-Aitken basin - thought to have been created about 4 billion years ago - is the largest preserved crater in the Solar System", Dr. James said.
"We did the maths and showed that a sufficiently dispersed core of the asteroid that made the impact could remain suspended in the Moon's mantle until the present day, rather than sinking to the Moon's core", James said.
Even though larger impacts could have occurred throughout the solar system, including on our planet, most traces of larger impacts are no longer available.
Finding out how the South Pole-Aitken basin formed is important to understanding the history of the moon and its evolution.