Scientists have discovered something massive lurking beneath the surface of the Moon.
It’s not known exactly what that ‘something’ is, although at the moment it’s being described as a ‘large excess of mass’. The mission is now on to find out exactly what this anomaly is.
With a mass equivalent to a pile of metal five times the size of Hawaii, the mysterious abnormality sits at least 180 miles beneath the South Pole-Aitken basin, which we can’t see from Earth.
The South Pole-Aitken basin – as seen above in blues and purples – is a giant impact crater on the Moon’s surface from billions of years ago.
James said in a statement released by Baylor University:
Imagine taking a pile of metal five times larger than the Big Island of Hawaii and burying it underground. That’s roughly how much unexpected mass we detected.
Researchers discovered the anomaly by combining data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission with data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Combined, this data helped refine past calculations for the thickness of the crater’s crust and density of the mantle, uncovering the odd excess of mass.
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.
One of the explanations of this extra mass is that the metal from the asteroid that formed this crater is still embedded in the Moon’s mantle.
Although the mass isn’t immediately obvious from the Moon’s surface, it appears to be having a significant effect, as James explains it is weighing the basin floor downward by more than half a mile.
One hypothesis suggests the iron-nickel core of an asteroid made impact with the Moon and could have remained suspended between its crust and core up until now.
Another possibility is the large anomaly resulting from a huge amount of metal-rich magma pooling inside the lunar crust and solidifying into a dense slab at the point of impact.
The discovery has excited scientists from around the world, who are already lining up to study the mass in the hope they’ll be able to uncover crucial details about how the Moon grows over time.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).