New research from Brown University has revealed a possible landing site on the far side of the moon for future NASA missions. The study mapped the mineralogy of the South Pole-Aitken basin which is an impact crater around 2500 Kilometers in diameter.
“This is a highly detailed look at the compositional structure of this huge impact basin using modern, cutting-edge data,” says Dan Moriarty, the lead researcher. “Given that it’s such an important target for future exploration and perhaps returning a sample to Earth, we hope this will serve as a framework for more detailed study and landing site selection.”
The impact that created the basin is thought to have been so large that it smashed through the moon’s crust and into the mantle. Visiting this site could provide us clues into the moon’s origins and how it has evolved over the millennia. A sample returned to earth could also provide scientists with a firm date of the impact and confirming it as the moon’s oldest impact crater.
The researchers used detailed data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper Spectrometer that flew aboard India’s Chandrayann-1 spacecraft. “Having global access with modern imaging spectrometers from lunar orbit is the next best thing to having a geologist with a rock hammer doing the field work across the surface,” Pieters says. “Ideally, in the future, we’ll have both working together.”
The team identified distinct mineral-rich regions within and around the basin. At the centre of some of these, there are signs volcanic deposits which add evidence to the impact blast reaching the moon’s mantle.
The central region is surrounded by a ring of magnesium-rich pyroxene which is thought to make up much of the moon’s mantle. Outside of that is a ring where pyroxene mises with crustal rocks and further still is a ring where impact-related material can no longer be found.
“If these rocks are indeed volcanic, it means that there was a really interesting kind of volcanism happening at SPA,” Moriarty says. “It could be related to the extreme geophysical environment that would have been in place during the formation of the basin. That would be really interesting to look at in more depth.”
“Impacts are the dominant process that drove solar system creation and evolution, and SPA is the largest confirmed impact structure on the Moon, if not the entire solar system,” Moriarty says. “That makes it an important end member in understanding impact processes. We think this work could provide a roadmap for exploring SPA in more detail.”
Source: Brown University