Friday, 23 August, 2019

What's Causing The Huge Mass Anomaly Beneath The Moon?

Mysterious large mass discovered on Moon bewilders scientists: 'Whatever it is, wherever it came from' An 'Anomaly' the Size of Hawaii Is Buried Beneath the Moon's Biggest Crater
Sandra Phillips | 12 June, 2019, 04:59

The South Pole-Aitken Basin on the lunar far side is one of the largest and oldest impact features in the Solar System.

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

As the oval-shaped crater can not be seen from Earth because of its location on the far side of the Moon, researchers analysed data from spacecrafts used for NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission. 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.

Either way, should this mass anomaly continue to exist under further scrutiny, it's going to have important implications for scientists' understanding of the Moon's history. Analysis of the two taken together revealed "a conspicuous mass excess in the mantle" under the basin with around 2.18 quintillion (that's 10^18) kilograms extra mass, according to the paper published in Geophysical Research Letters.

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.

"Imagine taking a pile of metal five times larger than the Big Island of Hawaii and burying it underground", lead study author Peter James, assistant professor of planetary geophysics at Baylor University's College of Arts & Sciences, said in a statement. This large mass may be a remnant of the asteroid that crashed into the Moon and formed the crater - which would also mean that it could be made up nearly entirely out of metal.

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"That is roughly how much unexpected mass we detected".

The dense mass-"whatever it is, wherever it came from"-is weighing the basin floor downward by more than half a mile, he said".

Computer simulations of large asteroid impacts suggest that, under the right conditions, an iron-nickel core of an asteroid may be dispersed into the lunar upper mantle during an impact.

Another possible explanation for the anomaly, the researchers wrote, is that the area is rich in oxides, which likely would have formed as the moon's ancient magma ocean cooled and solidified.

So, some 4 billion years ago, a mostly metallic asteroid hit the moon and remains embedded in the mantle to this day.

The crater is on the far side of the moon and can not be seen from Earth. These impact basins are said to control the moon's geology. "Lunar samples suggest that most of the major basins on the moon formed around 3.9 billion years ago in a period called the late heavy bombardment", according to NASA.

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