The Moon’s largest crater is hiding something, and astronomers don’t know what

Mysterious large mass discovered on Moon bewilders scientists: 'Whatever it is, wherever it came from'

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.

The oval-shaped crater itself is roughly 2000 kilometres wide and several miles deep.

In addition to being the largest crater on the Moon, the Pole-Aitken basin is also one of the largest known impact craters in the solar system and is thought to be approximately 4 billion years old.

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

When it comes to the South Pole-Aitken basin, the topography is particularly striking.

"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. Larger variations helped tease out information about the moon's core, and subtler ones revealed unseen mineral deposits, asteroid impact sites, and subsurface features.

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The researchers analysed data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory mission (GRAIL). 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 dense mass-"whatever it is, wherever it came from"-is weighing the basin floor downward by more than half a mile, he said".

So, some 4 billion years ago, a mostly metallic asteroid hit the moon and remains embedded in the mantle to this day. Computer simulations of large asteroid impacts suggest that, under the right conditions, an iron-nickel core of an asteroid may be dispersed into the upper mantle (the layer between the Moon's crust and core) during an impact.

It could be the leftovers of dense oxides created in the last years when the moon's surface was an ocean of magma - a theory that relies on the giant-impact hypothesis, when an impactor the size of Mars may have collided into a magma-covered Earth, ejecting magma into orbit that became the surface of the moon. Perhaps some process caused certain materials to concentrate beneath the basin as the lunar mantle cooled. There's still much to learn about the ancient and complex geology of the area, which marks a key event in the Moon's tumultuous history.

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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