June 28, 2010

Football Field Size Hole Discovered On The Moon

A highly detailed photograph released recently has views of a rare hole in the lunar surface, which is a pit large enough to swallow an entire football field whole.

The Japanese Kaguya spacecraft's high-resolution cameras first spotted the hole, which is located in Mare Ingenii on the moon's southern hemisphere.  NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter took this new, up-close photo of the moon pit from lunar orbit.

Mark Robinson, principal investigator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) at Arizona State University, told SPACE.com in an e-mail, "Only three have been discovered thus far, so I believe it is safe to state that skylights (pits) are rare at the 100-meter scale."

Mare Ingenii is best known for its prominent lunar swirls, which are highly reflective surface features that are associated with magnetic anomalies.  The new images of the region from the LROC show a giant pit measuring about 427 feet in diameter.

The boulders and debris resting on the floor of the cavity are partially illuminated and likely originated at the surface.  The hold is thought to be caused by a partially collapsed lava tube.

A similar moon pit was previously discovered during the Kaguya mission in the Marius Hills region of the moon.  However, the new pit in Mare Ingenii lacks the numerous volcanic features that were found in the Marius Hills region.

"The existence of lava tubes and thus skylights had long been postulated," Robinson said. "However it is a surprise to me how large and beautifully preserved are the three that we have seen thus far."

Robinson said that closer examination of Mare Ingenii could help scientists understand the differences between the two areas of the lunar surface, and such discoveries could also spur on further exploration of the moon.

"Imagine how fantastic it would be to land in one of these skylights and explore underground on the moon!" he said.


Image Caption: LRO has now collected the most detailed images yet of at least two lunar pits, quite literally giant holes in the moon. Scientists believe these holes are actually skylights that form when the ceiling of a subterranean lava tube collapses, possibly due to a meteorite impact punching its way through. One of these skylights, the Marius Hills pit, was observed multiple times by the Japanese SELENE/Kaguya research team. With a diameter of about 213 feet (65 meters) and an estimated depth of 260 to 290 feet (80 to 88 meters) it's a pit big enough to fit the White House completely inside. The image featured here is the Mare Ingenii pit. This hole is almost twice the size of the one in the Marius Hills and most surprisingly is found in an area with relatively few volcanic features. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University


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