Asteroid impact did not form the moon’s largest plain

different views of the moon

Mapping the gravity gradients of the moon (right) reveals a giant rectangular pattern surrounding  the large plain Oceanus Procellarum. The pattern, which doesn't appear in visible (left) and topographic (center) views of the moon, suggests that an asteroid impact did not create the plain.

Colorado School of Mines/MIT/JPL/GSFC/NASA

The largest plain on the nearside of the moon is not the residual mark of an asteroid impact. Instead, the vast flatland — called Oceanus Procellarum — probably formed as tectonic-like activity stretched and thinned the moon’s crust billions of years ago.

Researchers came to that conclusion after looking at gravity maps of the moon from the GRAIL mission. The maps revealed a more rectangular subsurface rim around Oceanus Procellarum (the Ocean of Storms) rather than a circular one, which would be a stronger signature of an asteroid impact, scientists suggest October 1 in Nature.

photo of Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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