Scientists Find Mystery Mass Under Moon’s Surface

Pablo Tucker
June 12, 2019

"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 said in the statement. "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.

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.

If there is a large metallic object buried under the South Pole-Aitken basin, it could tell us something about the moon's interior.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from spacecraft used for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission to measure small changes in the strength of gravity around the Moon.

The mass of the metal "anomaly" beneath the moon's largest crater is five times greater than the big island of Hawaii, and according to a new study from scientists at Baylor University, it could contain metals remaining from an ancient asteroid impact, weighing in at around 4.8 quintillion pounds.

The research study titled "Deep Structure of the Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin", was published last month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Beneath this basin lies a unusual anomaly-an excess of mass extending at least 300 kilometers down, more than 10 times the depth of the Earth's crust. According to NASA's research, the recently-discovered material is weighing down the basin floor by more than half a mile.

Baylor scientists believe the mass may also be suspended iron-nickel core from an asteroid that previously impacted the moon's surface.

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.

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.

This crater can not be seen from earth because it's on the far side of the moon. Meanwhile, the LRO has been mapping the lunar surface for a decade. Or, intriguingly, the extra mass could suggest the presence of an enormous metal core deposited in the Moon mantle, left over from the impact.

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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