New findings show Moon's geologic past more complicated than previously thought

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Courtesy of Fernando Echeverria

The International Space Station flew across the face of the moon over NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida approximately 15 minutes before the launch of space shuttle Discovery on the STS-131 mission.

Humans have been to the Moon – but there’s still a lot we don’t know about it. Scientists studying data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have released two papers in the journal “Science” that include intriguing new findings.

Some of the data comes from the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment on board the Orbiter. It makes infrared maps of the lunar surface – and studies those maps to detect various minerals.

Three UCLA scientists have examined the Diviner data; they say it reveals geologic structures on the Moon linked with volcanic activity. There are steep slopes and rough surfaces that suggest lava bubbled up and bulged out the surface. The Diviner’s reading of materials blasted out of craters also suggests that in some places, lava pooled and cooled beneath the surface.

What it all means is that lunar geology is far more complex than researchers had thought. A researcher from Brown University is using another piece of gear on the Orbiter to study impact craters formed when meteors slammed into the Moon.

The Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter maps those craters; it’s found that the big ones came before the little ones. That provides clues to what was hurtling through space and slamming into the Moon – and the Earth – billions of years ago.

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