Date:21 November 2012
Apollo astronauts reached the Moon 43 years ago, but we know little about our nearest celestial neighbour. “The Moon is a way of recording what has happened since the formation of the solar system,” says John Keller, deputy project scientist for Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission, which has been examining the Moon since 2009. Whether you’re a lunar colonist or a tourist, here’s what you won’t want to miss. – Sarah Fecht
The Compton-Belkovich volcanic region is isolated from the majority of lunar hotspots, which are on the near side. It is forcing scientists to re-think lunar volcanism. The Moon has a molten core but, oddly, no active volcanoes. Using X-ray analyses of melted Moon rocks, researchers found that some of the magma is too dense to spew from the surface.
Swathes of the surface – including an area near the south pole – are highly magnetised. New research suggests that the anomaly is a relic from a skidding asteroid that left behind iron-rich rock.
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The Shackleton crater at the lunar south pole hasn’t seen
sunlight in 2 billion years. Keller says craters can reach temperatures below minus 240 degrees Celsius. “Those are really the coldest temperatures that have been measured in the solar system,” he says. “Water and other volatiles could potentially be held there for hundreds of millions of years.”
The highest point on the Moon is 10 600 metres. That’s 1 800 m taller than Mount Everest. But the slopes are gentler than Everest’s, making for an easier hike.
The Moon used to spin faster, but Earth’s gravity slowed its rotation. Since the Moon’s mass is not evenly distributed, it’s destined to stop with one side constantly facing Earth, according to a new study.
Nasa’s LRO has collected detailed images of the Apollo landing sites. “The Apollo astronauts brought back samples, and these images help us to pinpoint exactly where those samples came from,” Keller says. Apollo-era Moon rocks are still producing science. Many scientists believe that the Moon was created after Earth collided with a Mars-size object. But this year, a chemical analysis showed that Earth is the Moon’s sole parent. Exactly how our planet “gave birth” to the Moon is still a mystery.