The Moon’s largest crater is hiding something, and astronomers don’t know what

A mass of metal was found under a crater on our moon

A mass of metal was found under a crater on our moon

The researchers combined data from the NASA Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory mission (which used gravitational mapping to get a feel of the moon's internal structure) with lunar topography data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and ended up finding an "unexpectedly large amount of mass hundreds of miles underneath the South Pole-Aitken basin". "That's roughly how much unexpected mass we detected", author Peter B. James said in a release.

This false-color graphic shows the topography of the far side of the Moon.

The anomaly was discovered when the scientists measured subtle changes in the strength of gravity around the moon, analysing data collected from NASA missions.

The Chinese lander Chang'e-4 and its Yutu-2 rover are now exploring the Von Karman crater within the South Pole-Aitken basin, and NASA also wants to target the South Pole for future exploration.

The South Pole-Aitken basin on the far side of the moon is said to be the largest crater in the solar system and extends several miles deep. James' team published their research April 5 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

In addition to being the largest crater on the Moon, the Pole-Aitken basin is also one of the largest known impact craters in the solar system and is thought to be approximately 4 billion years old. The dashed circle shows the location, size and depth of the mass anomaly under the basin.

The gravitational force of "whatever it is, wherever it came from", James said, is so great that it drags down the floor of the basin by more than 800m.

Another possibility is that the large mass might be a concentration of dense oxides associated with the last stage of lunar magma ocean solidification.

Present from the Beginning James and his colleagues suggest that one possible explanation for the underground material is that it's the remains of a massive asteroid that slammed into the Moon soon after its formation, causing the giant impact crater still visible today.

Scientists at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, have discovered an unusual metal mass buried at the south pole of the moon, one that likely originated some four billion years ago from a head-on collision with an asteroid. Perhaps some process caused certain materials to concentrate beneath the basin as the lunar mantle cooled.

If the mass is from around the same time as the impact that made the basin, this implies an upper temperature limit of around 1,480 degrees Celsius for the latter half of the Moon's lifespan, consistent with estimates based on seismology.

Whatever formed the basin almost 4 billion years ago remains a mystery, but the blow was so strong that it likely punched all the way through the moon's crust and tossed part of the lunar mantle - a deeper geologic layer - onto the surface.

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