It was thought that it took as long as millions of years for Moon craters to appear and properly change the lunar relief. However, it has been discovered that this happens way more often than they had originally thought.
Scientists from the Arizona State University and the Cornell University have used images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, or LROC for short. The device is installed on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and controlled from the Science Operations Center, within the Arizona State University.
The team of ASU scientists, led by Emerson Spreyerer, have identified 222 new Moon craters since the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was launched in 2009. They are, of course, impact craters, resulted from multiple meteors that frequently collide with Earth’s only satellite.
As we know, the Moon has no atmosphere, which makes it impossible for the space rocks to burn in flight, as they do when their target is Earth.
However, this happens at a higher rate and with more efficiency than previously thought. According to the scientists, it takes approximately 81,000 years for a complete Moon surface makeover.
The Moon craters can vary in size, but they can be as wide as 140 feet. Additionally, when a space rock hits the surface of the Moon, it throws additional debris that also does some surface altering of its own. It’s not unlike the “splash damage” of fragmentation grenades.
“We observed a surprising number of small surface changes which we call splotches,” said Emerson Spreyerer.
Scientists have found more than 47,000 recent splotches. Though they lack the distinctiveness given to Moon craters by their rims, these splotches are said to be formidable in their power to alter the Moon’s relief.
By simply analyzing LROC images, one can find it difficult to observe any changes in the Moon’s “cheesy” surface. It was only after scientists had used “before and after” comparisons that they came to these staggering conclusions.
In fact, the measuring of the more recent lunar impact rate is one of the most important tasks of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Its findings are crucial for future missions to the Moon, especially if structures of any kind are to be erected on its surface.
In order to further this research, NASA has extended the mission of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter by an additional two years.
Image source: Wikipedia