Gravitational anomaly discovered weighing down surface of moon

Gravitational anomaly discovered weighing down surface of moon

Scientists have detected a mysterious mass of material beneath a 1,200-mile crater on the surface of the moon.

"When we combined that with lunar topography data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, we discovered the unexpectedly large amount of mass hundreds of miles underneath the South Pole-Aitken basin", James explained.

The South Pole-Aitken basin - the largest crater in the Solar System - is a huge impact structure on the far side of the Moon. The South Pole-Aitken basin on the far side of the moon is thought to be the solar system's largest crater, extending several miles deep.

Buried under the largest, oldest crater on the Moon, scientists have discovered an enormous mass of dense material, possibly the remains of the asteroid that formed the crater some 4 billion years ago.

James and his colleagues discovered the anomaly beneath the basin by merging data from two NASA missions at the moon. Scientists at Baylor University published a study detailing their findings of this "anomaly" beneath the moon's largest crater, at its South Pole.

The South Pole-Aitken basin was created around four billion years ago according to Dr James. It is one of the biggest impact craters of the known solar system but, because it is located on the far side of the moon, can not be viewed directly from Earth.

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"Imagine taking a pile of metal five times larger than the Big Island of Hawaii and burying it underground", study lead author Peter B. James, a geoscientist at Baylor University in Texas, said in a statement. The first was from NASA's GRAIL mission, a pair of orbiting spacecraft that mapped the Moon's gravitational field in 2011 and 2012 to try to shed some light on its interior structure. 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.

Even though larger impacts could have occurred throughout the solar system, including on our planet, most traces of larger impacts are no longer available.

"We did the math 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", James said.

The team ran complicated computer simulations of large asteroid impacts which suggested that - under the right conditions - an asteroid which had an iron-nickel core could have dispersed into the moon's upper mantle during an impact.

The team notes that a concentration of dense oxides associated with the final stages of a magma ocean solidifying inside the moon would also produce the same readings. There's still much to learn about the ancient and complex geology of the area, which marks a key event in the Moon's tumultuous history.

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