Gravitational anomaly discovered weighing down surface of moon

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

When the research team combined the data with lunar topography results from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the large mass was discovered, one which is big enough to weigh down the basin floor by a little less than a kilometre.

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. "That's roughly how much unexpected mass we detected", lead author Dr. Peter James, assistant professor of planetary geophysics at Baylor University, said in a statement.

The far side of the Moon contains an enormous and very weird structure at its South Pole.

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.

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

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As the oval-shaped crater can not be seen from Earth because of its location on the far side of the Moon, researchers analysed data from spacecrafts used for NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission. Analysis of the two taken together revealed "a conspicuous mass excess in the mantle" under the basin with around 2.18 quintillion (that's 10^18) kilograms extra mass, according to the paper published in Geophysical Research Letters. It is one of the biggest impact craters of the known solar system but, because it is located on the far side of the moon, can not be viewed directly from Earth.

With humans headed back to the Moon sooner rather than later, the crater could be an interesting location for further study, though NASA and other space-faring organizations already have plenty of scientific objectives on their plates. 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.

The South Pole-Aitken basin is the largest and the oldest impact basin on the moon, according to NASA. Perhaps some process caused certain materials to concentrate beneath the basin as the lunar mantle cooled. After 4 billion years, the iron-nickel remains of the asteroid would have been dispersed throughout the mantle if the moon was geologically active for any significant period of time.

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.

If the mass is from around the same time as the impact that made the basin, this implies an upper temperature limit of around 1,480 degrees Celsius for the latter half of the Moon's lifespan, consistent with estimates based on seismology.

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