Scientists can't explain mysterious large mass discovered on Moon

Eloise Marshall
June 12, 2019

The dark side of the Moon, Aitken basin, the placeholder of the anomaly, features an enormous crater, measuring 2000 kilometers ( 1.240 miles ) across. "That's roughly how much unexpected mass we detected", author Peter B. James said in a statement.

As you'll spot in the trailer, the moon isn't a great place to be, where "new nightmares have emerged from the shadows of our long-forgotten moon". Another possibility is that the dense mass is a buildup of material still left over from when the Moon's hot liquid rock cooled after formation.

While the researchers don't have a definite answer to what could be hiding in the crater, James and his team believe that it's a metal suspended inside the moon's mantle, caused by the asteroid impact around 4 billion years ago, during the early days of the solar system.

But when the team compared these findings with the lunar topography data collected by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the results showed something else: a mass of about 2.18 quintillion kilograms (that's a number with 18 zeroes), extending more than 300 kilometres (184 miles) below the surface. It could be metal from the core of a differentiated impactor (one big metal asteroid!) It could on the other hand be oxides from the last stage of magma ocean crystallization.

This unusual dense mass is causing the basin floor to go down by more than half a mile and according to computer simulations of big asteroid impacts, it's possible that under the right conditions, an iron-nickel core of an asteroid can be distributed into the upper mantle (the layer sandwiched between the Moon's crust and core), during an impact.

"[The basin is] one of the best natural laboratories for studying catastrophic impact events, an ancient process that shaped all of the rocky planets and moons we see today", James said.

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One is that "the asteroid that formed this crater is still embedded in the Moon's mantle" rather than sinking into its core after an impact some 4 billion years ago, James said.

The study proposes two possible explanations.

The Aitken basin, on the south pole of the Moon, might hold a very dense object as revealed in new information coming out from NASA.

The Baylor University Study, "Deep Structure of the Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin", is published in the journal "Geophysical Research Letters".

The basin is one of the largest and best-preserved craters in the entire solar system, covering almost a quarter of the moon's surface. While larger impacts may have occurred throughout the solar system, including on Earth, most traces of those have been lost.

The simulations suggest that the material could be from the iron-nickel core of an asteroid, which, if dispersed into the upper mantle, could be weighing down the basin as seen in the spacecraft data.

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