NASA: Moon’s Scars Tell Its Tale

 @ibtimes
on May 14 2011 5:10 PM

It turns out the moon is similar to an aging prize fighter. Its weary face gives away its somewhat rough history.   

According to new research from NASA and California Institute of Technology, the moon's damages which lay all across its rough surface give scientists an idea of its four-and-a-half billion year history. The scientists say the moon's impact craters, dark plains left behind by volcanic eruptions give them an idea of how it was shaped.

In order to visualize the processes which made the moon what it is today, the scientists put together the first comprehensive set of maps revealing the slopes and roughness of the moon's surface. The maps use data from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) on NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Scientists were able to determine to the age of the various craters on the moon depending on their roughness. Varying degrees of roughness was measured by the subtle ups and downs of the landscape. This was measured by the slopes on the surface, with scientists looking at the distance between two points as a marking point.

Old and young craters have different roughness properties-they are rougher on some scales and smoother on others, Meg Rosenburg, graduate student of geological and planetary sciences, said in a statement. Roseburg co-authored a study based on the research.

Generally, older craters have smoother terrain. Scientists say this is due to ages and ages of meteorites, crashing into the surface and rearranging the site of the original impact.

It is remarkable that the moon exhibits a great range of topographic character: on the extremes, surfaces roughened by the accumulation of craters over billions of years can be near regions smoothed and resurfaced by more recent mare volcanism, Oded Aharonson, Rosenburg's advisor at the California Institute of Technology, said in a statement.

This information can be used by scientists to figure out how the moon was shaped. For instance, the map of the area around the Orientale basin shows there are subtle differences in the debris that was thrown out when the crater was formed by a giant object slamming into the moon. However, it's these subtleties in surface make the difference in this type of research.

By studying roughness at different scales, we can begin to understand how our nearest neighbors came to look the way they do, Rosenburg said.

Follow Gabriel Perna on Twitter at @GabrielSPerna

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