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There's an enormous, mysterious mass under the Moon's largest crater

12 June 2019

On the far side of the moon, buried nearly two hundred miles under the South Pole-Aitken basin (the largest preserved crater in our solar system), is a mysterious mass. Peter B. James and his team of scientists from Baylor University believe it could be the metal core of an asteroid which head-butted the moon and left that 1,242-mile-wide crater behind.

Scientists have discovered an unknown material on the moon's largest crater, and they are not yet sure what to make of it. Despite its size, however, we can't see this crated from Earth because it's on the far (dark) side of the Moon.

This false-color image shows the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin region in a topographical map.

The South Pole-Aitken basin is a giant impact structure, oval in shape with its outer rim roughly 2,000 km in length.

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The findings appear in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Two datasets contributed to the research: topography data from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) onboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and global gravity data from the pair of small Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft. Scientists have said that the anomaly beneath what is considered the largest crater in our solar system, may contain metal from an asteroid that crashed into the moon and formed the crater. The mass is located under a crater in the Moon's South Pole-Aitken basin, and researchers believe it could be metallic remnants from the asteroid that caused the crater in the first place.

The mystery mass, circled, is beneath an impact crater on the far side of the moon. Beneath this basin lies a odd anomaly-an excess of mass extending at least 300 kilometers down, more than 10 times the depth of the Earth's crust.

This mass, the researchers believe, is weighing the floor of the basin downward by more than 800 metres, around 10 percent of its total depth, explaining a depression in the bottom of the basin previously attributed to contraction.

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Dr James added: "We did the maths and showed that a sufficiently dispersed core of the asteroid that made the impact could remain suspended in the Moon's mantle until the present day, rather than sinking to the moon's core".

The South Pole-Aitken basin is the largest and the oldest impact basin on the moon, according to NASA.

The team ran complicated computer simulations of large asteroid impacts which suggested that - under the right conditions - an asteroid which had an iron-nickel core could have dispersed into the moon's upper mantle during an impact.

According to their statement, there's another possibility that the large mass might be a concentration of dense oxides associated with the last stage of lunar magma ocean solidification. These impact basins are said to control the moon's geology.

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There's an enormous, mysterious mass under the Moon's largest crater