Friday, 15 December, 2017

Huge asteroid helped shape 'Man in the Moon'

Moon's face formed by Protoplanet-sized asteroid Protoplanet blasted out Mare Imbrium
Garry Little | 22 July, 2016, 03:48

"We show that Imbrium was likely formed by an absolutely enormous object, large enough to be classified as a protoplanet", Schultz explained in a statement, adding that this is the first estimate to be based primarily on the moon's geological features, and that the findings might help explain why the Imbrium Basin is surrounded by unusual terrain including grooves and gashes. These experiments involved a 14-foot (4.25 meters) cannon that fired small bullets at up to about 11,200 miles per hour (18,000 km/h), while high-speed cameras and impact plates recorded details about the collisions.

"More than half of the asteroid was destroyed after hitting the moon", Schultz said. These rocks will continue to travel at high speeds, scouring the impact crater's surface in a non-radial fashion. During his experiments, Schultz noticed that in addition to the usual crater ejecta from the impact, the impactors themselves - if large enough - had a tendency to break apart when they first made contact with the surface. Because the fragments would have broken off from either side of the impactor, the groove trajectories could then be used to estimate its size. We see the same thing in our experiments that we see on the moon - grooves pointing up-range, rather than the crater.

Either way, the scientific name of the crater in question is the Imbrium Basin, and the new research, published Wednesday in Nature, suggests the asteroid that sculpted it was far bigger than previously thought.

Researchers have also found a second group of holes, which was apparently formed by pieces of the asteroid that impacted the moon. In fact, the impactor is so huge it can technically be classed as a protoplanet, a celestial object similar to the size of a moon.

With these experiments, Schultz was able to show that those grooves were likely formed by chunks of the impactor that sheared off on initial contact with the surface.

But Schultz and co-author David Crawford, of Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, may have solved the mystery.

"That's actually a low-end estimate", Schultz said. This colossal force fractured the moon where the impact marked permanent scars as chunks of lunar rock were ejected, scattering material into space for 300 miles.

The researchers, during the course of the study, also arrived at the possible impactors on the other basins of the moon such as Moscoviense and Orientale basins.

Schultz said previous estimates of the size of Mare Imbrium were based exclusively on computer models and yielded a size estimate of only about 50 miles (80 km) in diameter.

The research has several other implications.

The Apollo 16 mission "landed downrange from the Imbrium impact", wrote researchers. It may also suggest that based on the size of other basins on the moon, Mercury and Mars, the early billion years of the solar system were packed with asteroids the size of protoplanets. However, 3.8 billion years ago during a period known as the Late Heavy Bombardment, they frequently smashed the surfaces of the inner planets and their moons. If a protoplanet crashed into any surfaces, some of the chunks crumbling away after impact would have escaped any gravitational pull and be sucked into the Sun's orbit, subsequently colliding into any planet or moon that crossed its path.

"This was a time when Jupiter and Saturn were changing their position in the Solar System, and as a result it stirred the pot, so to speak", Schultz said.

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