By: April Carson
The moon's far side, which we can never observe from our Earthly position, is significantly different than what we're used to seeing in the night sky.
On the near side, we are so accustomed to seeing shades of black, owing to the vast ancient lava flows known as lunar mare -- while the far side is marred with pockmarks and craters but no mare. The "dark side of the moon" is heavily cratered and appears to be much older than the Earth-facing side. This has led some scientists to believe that the moon was actually created by a catastrophic event, such as a large meteor striking the Earth.
Why the two sides of the moon are so different has long perplexed space scientists. However, a research published last week in the journal Science Advances provides a new explanation for this lunar enigma.
According to the study, the moon's two faces are a result of it being struck by a giant impactor early in its history. This impactor not only created the large basins we see on the surface of the moon today, but also caused the formation of a magma ocean.
Brown University's researchers investigated the moon's biggest impact crater, the South Pole-Aitken basin (or SPA). It was formed by a significant space object that impacted the moon – perhaps a wandering dwarf planet – when the solar system was being formed, measuring 1,615 miles (2,600 kilometers) wide and five miles deep.
According to the statement, the researchers discovered that the impact that created the basin would have generated a tremendous plume of heat that spread throughout the moon's interior. The plume would have carried specific materials to the moon's near side, causing volcanism and generating volcanic plains.
"We understand the significance of a large change like the one that formed SPA, which would create a lot of heat," said Matt Jones, a Brown University doctoral candidate and lead author of the study, in a news release.
The issue is whether the heat from the interior affects the Moon's interior dynamics. What we discovered is that, under any conceivable circumstances at the time SPA was formed, it concentrates these heat-producing components on the near side.
"We think this may have accelerated the melting of the mantle, resulting in the lava flows we see on the surface."
This new heat hypothesis could also explain why the near side of the moon is more geologically active than the far side.
"The idea that there's this big thermal difference between the two sides of the Moon has been around for a while, but no one really had a good explanation for it," said Erik Asphaug, professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
A group of elements including potassium, rare earth elements, and phosphorous - known as Procellarum KREEP terrane (PKT) is unique on the moon - can be found on the near side of the moon's volcanic plains.
The scientists tested how heat produced by a cataclysmic collision would change heat flow patterns in the Moon's interior and distribute KREEP materials throughout the lunar mantle.
According to their hypothesis, the KREEP material would have "surfed" the heat wave emanating from the impact zone "like a surfer" whether the impact was a direct hit or only scraped the moon. That material was eventually carried down to the near side as the heat plume spread beneath the moon's crust.
"How the PKT formed is, perhaps, the most intriguing open question in lunar science," Jones added.
"The South Pole-Aitken impact is one of the most significant events in lunar history," notes Dr. Padgett, who specializes in geology and planetary science. "This research combines those two things, and I think our findings are truly fascinating."
These new findings could lead to a better understanding of not only the moon's origin story, but also the origins of other planets and moons in our solar system.
This research was funded by NASA's Outer Planets Research and Discovery programs and the National Science Foundation. The findings were published in the journal Science Advances.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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