Tag Archives: moon

NO, Mars Will NOT Appear As Large As The Full Moon In The Night Sky

Certain wonderful events come just once a year, like birthdays, Thanksgiving, anniversaries, and back-to-school sales for office supplies. Sadly, a new annual tradition has emerged: claiming that Mars will appear to be the same size as the full moon at the end of August. 

Chances are, you’ve seen something like this floating around:

(Over 626,000 shares?! I’m starting to think people are doing this just to fuck with me. Mission accomplished. Now stop it.)

So where did this nonsense originate? The closest approach for Mars and Earth in 2003 was the closest it been in nearly 60,000 years and was the best time to view the red planet through a strong telescope. Phil Plait explained last year:

“On that date, through a telescope that magnifies an image 75x, Mars would look as big as the Moon does to the naked eye. … But this being the Internet, that got all mished and mashed up, and somehow became this idea that if you went outside Mars would look huge in the sky, looming over the world like something out of an H. G. Wells novel.”

While it is reasonable that someone could make a silly mistake, it is entirely unclear how it could have persisted this long. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter why. The only important thing to remember is that Mars will never appear as large as the full moon in the night sky. Not in 2014; not in 2287. Not ever.

The respective orbits of Mars and Earth make their closest approach with one another once every 26 months. The most recent event was this past April, when it just happened to coincide with a total lunar eclipse. This year, that approach left a distance of 92 million kilometers (57.2 million miles) between the planets, and while Mars could be seen with the naked eye, it was still just a small smudge of red light.

August 27 also happens to fall two days after the new moon, so the moon will be in its waxing crescent phase; certainly not full. These dark sky conditions will make it a great time to grab a blanket and a telescope to check out the stars, but don’t be fooled into thinking that Mars will be an extraordinary feature. Astronomy is plenty cool all on its own; these gimmicks just undermine that. (There’s also a lot to be said for such rampant serial sharing without any fact checking. Slate’s Scott Huler hits the nail on the head with that topic.)

Just for kicks, how close would Mars need to be to appear as large as the full moon in the night sky? About 780,000 kilometers (485,000 miles), which is approximately 118 times closer than it will ever be. Heck, the Moon’s average distance is about 363,100 kilometers (225,600 miles), so we’d all be in pretty big trouble if Mars got that close. 

[Hat tip: EarthSky.org, Phil Plait]

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/no-mars-will-not-appear-large-full-moon-night-sky

New Evidence Suggests Water On The Moon Comes From Solar Wind

New analysis of rock samples collected off the moon’s surface five decades ago shows how water in lunar minerals was generated by the bombardment of particles from solar wind — and not by meteorite or comet impacts. The findings were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week. 

The Apollo missions of the 1970s painted a bone-dry picture of our moon, New Scientist explains, but back in 2009, researchers discovered hints of water clinging to lunar soil across the moon’s surface. The first detection was made by India’s Chandrayaan-1 probe, and then data from NASA’s Cassini orbiter and Deep Impact spacecraft helped verify the likely presence of small amounts of water and hydroxyl molecules on the moon. 

To find the source of the water, Alice Stephant and François Robert from the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris measured the ratio of hydrogen and deuterium in lunar soil samples collected during the Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 missions. Water in the solar system naturally contains tiny amounts of heavy hydrogen or deuterium, Chemistry World explains, so measuring the proportions of the two isotopes could help researchers identify the origin of the water. 

The possible sources they investigated include water-rich meteorites, comet impacts, and solar wind — the plasma stream of energized protons and electrons flowing out from the sun. Since the amount of deuterium quantities present depend on distances to the sun and the actions of cosmic rays, each source would give a different D/H ratio.

They found that most of the water from the surface of the soil grains comes from solar wind. “We see that there is higher water content when the ratio is lower,” Stephant says, which the duo interpreted as a signature of solar wind implantation. Protons from the solar wind combined with oxygen on the moon to generate water. Meanwhile, the contribution from meteorites and comets is negligible; The grains contained, on average, only about 15 percent water from these other sources. 

Image: Apollo 17 Gallery, MSFC History Office, NASA

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/solar-wind-wafted-makings-water-moon

What The Heck Is This Huge Lump On The Moon?

Volcanoes capture the imagination like little else on Earth, but did you know that there are also volcanoes on the Moon? Planetary scientists have often thought that the Moon is a dead satellite, in that there is no longer any internal heat left to drive surface processes like earthquakes, mountain building, or volcanic eruptions. Although recent evidence has suggested that volcanism on the Moon may have been happening more recently than previously thought, a new study published this week in Geophysical Research Letters shows that scientists still arent quite sure whats happening up there: a new, mysterious volcanic feature has been found on the lunar south pole.

This feature, named the Mafic Mound after the type of lava its made from, is 800 meters (2,600 feet) high and a whopping 75 kilometers (47 miles) across, sitting right in the middle of a gigantic impact crater, the South Pole-Aitken Basin. Its composition is vastly different from the lunar rock it is surrounded by, so where did it come from?

The enigmatic Mafic Mound, outlined. Image credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University.

The lunar surface is an entirely volcanic landscape. The mare or seas that are most prominent on the near side of the Moon, tidally-locked to Earth, are huge flows of basaltic lava, almost exactly the same type you would see in Hawaii. Major impacts from various space rocks punctured holes in the lunar surface, causing swathes of lava to flood out into basins.

The Moon has experienced bonafide volcanic eruptions too. Between 3 and 4 billion years ago small domes and cones similar volcanoes on Earth formed. The gravitational field strength of the Moon is just asixth of Earths, meaning that volcanic debris was thrown over a very large area even for small explosive eruptions. This meant the cones were not able to successfully build themselves up; consequently, lunar volcanoes are pretty tiny.

So how did this massive southern Mafic Mound form? The authors of the study think the large impact crater is to blame. When anancient impactor smacked into the south pole, a cauldron of magma 50 kilometers (30 miles) deep was formed. As it cooled, it shrunk, but the core of the cauldron remained molten right until the last minute, and it was this prolonged cooling process that drastically changed the mineral content of the lava. At the last minute, thisseverely altered orevolvedsea of lava was squeezed up out of the crust, forming the Mafic Mound.

The Solar System is full of weird and wonderful volcanoes: Cassini has just started its flyby of the icy Saturnian moon of Enceladus, where it will rocket through an erupting ice volcanos plume. Venus erupts pancakes, Io erupts plumes over 60 times the height of Everest, and it appears even our own little Moon has exhibited novel volcanism in the recent past.

Image credit: NASA

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/what-heck-huge-volcanic-lump-moons-south-pole

50-Mile Landslides Spotted on Saturn’s Icy Moon


Long landslides spotted on Saturn’s moon, Iapetus, could help provide clues to similar movements of material on Earth. Scientists studying the icy satellite have determined that flash heating could cause falling ice to travel 10 to 15 times farther than previously expected on Iapetus.

Extended landslides can be found on Mars and Earth, but are more likely to be composed of rock than ice. Despite the differences in materials, scientists believe there could be a link between the long-tumbling debris on all three bodies.

“We think there’s more likely a common mechanism for all of this, and we want to be able to explain all of the observations,” lead scientist Kelsi Singer of Washington University told SPACE.com.

Rock-Hard Ice on Saturn’s Moon

Giant landslides stretching as far as 50 miles litter the surface of Iapetus. Singer and her team identified 30 such displacements by studying images taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

More From Space.com: Photos: Latest Saturn Photos from NASA’s Cassini Orbiter

Composed almost completely of ice, Iapetus already stands out from other moons. While most bodies in the solar system have rocky mantles and metallic cores, with an icy layer on top, scientists think Iapetus is composed almost completely of frozen water. There are bits of rock and carbonaceous material that make half the moon appear darker than the other, but this seems to be only a surface feature.

Ice on Iapetus is different from ice found on Earth. Because the moon’s temperature can get as low as 300 degrees Fahrenheit, the moon’s ice is very hard and very dry.

“It’s more like what we experience on Earth as rock, just because it’s so cold,” Singer said.

Slow-moving ice creates a lot of friction, so when the ice falls from high places, scientists expected that it would behave much like rock on Earth does. Instead, they found that it traveled significantly farther than predicted.

How far a landslide runs is usually related to how far it falls, Singer explained. Most of the time, debris of any type loses energy before traveling twice the distance it fell from. But on Iapetus, the pieces of ice move 20 to 30 times as far as their falling height.

Flash heating could be providing that extra push.

Flash heating occurs when material falls so fast that the heat doesn’t have time to dissipate. Instead, it stays concentrated in small areas, reducing the friction between the sliding objects and allowing them to travel faster and farther than they would under normal conditions.

“They’re almost acting more like a fluid,” Singer said.

On Iapetus, falling material has a good chance of reaching great speeds because there are a number of great heights to fall from. The moon hosts a ring of mountains around its bulging equator that can tower as high as 12 miles, and the longest run-outs discovered are associated with the ridge and with impact-basin walls.

Scientists think that the landslides are relatively recent, and could have been triggered by impacts in the last billion years or so.

“You don’t see a lot of small craters on the landslide material itself,” Singer said, although the surrounding terrain boasts evidence of bombardment. Over time, landscapes tend to be dotted by falling rocks, so the less cratered a surface is, the younger it is thought to be.

More From Space.com: Photos of Saturn’s Moons

Resting on the ridges and walls, the material gradually becomes more unstable. Close impacts could set them off, but powerful, distant impacts reverberating through the ice could also send them tumbling.

The research was published in the July 29 issue of the journal Nature Geoscience.

Connecting Ice and Rock

Differences in gravity, atmosphere and water content make landslides seen on Iapetus difficult to duplicate in the laboratory. But the fact that they happen on different types of worlds makes it more likely that the mechanism triggering the extended slide is dependent on things unique to either environment.

“We have them on Iapetus, Earth and Mars,” Singer said. “Theoretically, they should be very similar.”

Singer pointed out the implications for friction within fault lines, which produces earthquakes. As plates on Earth move, the rocks within a fault snag on each other, until forces drag them apart.

But sometimes, the faults slip farther than scientists can explain based on their understanding of friction. If flash heating occurs within the faults, it could explain why the two opposing faces slide the way they do, and provoke a better understanding of earthquakes.

In such cases, flash heating would cause minerals to melt and reform, producing an unexpected material around the faults. Some such materials have been identified at the base of long landslides on Earth.

“If something else is going on, like flash heating, or something making [the material] have a lower coefficient of friction, this would affect any models that use the coefficient of friction,” Singer said.

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/30/saturn-moon-landslide/

Juno Spacecraft Passes By Earth And Moon

Juno Spacecraft Passes By Earth And Moon

The space age may be in its infancy, but it’s still here. 

NASA‘s Juno spacecraft is traveling to Jupiter, and is set to reach the gassy planet by July of 2016. The craft is outfitted with a slew of special equipment to track, test, and observe space. 

One sensor is a special camera “optimized to track faint stars” which recently had a very unique view of the Earth and our moon.

From 600,000 miles away, Juno captured one frame at a time and sent the footage back to Earth to be processed into this very special video. 

Already, the clip has amassed over half a million views!


Read more: http://www.viralviralvideos.com/2013/12/12/juno-spacecraft-passes-by-earth-and-moon/

Rebooted NASA Spacecraft Begins a New Mission 36 Years After Launch


Artist’s concept image of ISEE-3 (ICE) spacecraft.
Image: NASA

A 36-year-old NASA spacecraft began a new interplanetary science mission on Sunday when it made a close pass by the moon.

The privately controlled International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 spacecraft, also called ISEE-3, flew by the moon at approximately 2:16 p.m. EDT.

The ISEE-3 spacecraft is under the control of the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, a private team of engineers who took control of the probe earlier this year under an agreement with NASA. The team initially hoped to move the NASA probe into a stable orbit near the Earth. But attempts failed when the team discovered that the spacecraft, which NASA launched in 1978, was out of the nitrogen pressurant needed to get the job done.

Now, ISEE-3 Reboot Project engineers are focusing their efforts on an interplanetary science mission, since at least some of the probe’s 13 instruments are still working. By using a network of individual radio dishes across the world, the team will listen to the ISEE-3 spacecraft for most of its orbit around the sun.

Officials announced this week that they would collaborate with Google to offer live spacecraft data at the site SpacecraftForAll.com. Financial terms were not disclosed. Chris Lintott, of the BBC’s “The Sky at Night,” moderated a Google Hangout on ISEE-3.

“The main feature of this is a new website developed by Google Creative Lab in collaboration with the ISEE-3 Reboot Project team that features a history of the ISEE-3 mission as well as a presentation of data currently being received from ISEE-3,” co-founder Keith Cowing said in a statement.

The spacecraft was originally launched in 1978 to study the sun, and was retasked for other science missions such as looking at comets. NASA put ISEE-3 into hibernation in 1998, where it remained until the private group reactivated it this year under a Space Act Agreement.

Members raised about $160,000 through crowdfunding, most of which is gone due to the need to rent dish time at NASA’s Deep Space Network to listen in, and to fly team members to the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico for communications.

To learn more about the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, visit: http://spacecollege.org/.

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/08/11/isee-3-buzzes-moon/

LADEE’s Mission to the Moon

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) will perform a relatively short mission to the moon in order to study conditions near the lunar surface and its atmosphere. This information will help scientists understand other bodies in the solar system like asteroids and moons of the most distant planets. 


LADEE was launched at 11:27 pm EDT off the coast of Virginia and the event was visible to tens of millions of people. Shortly after launch when LADEE (pronounced like “laddie”) detached from the rocket, there was a minor issue with the reaction wheels being turned off due to a safeguarding program. The program was disabled and LADEE’s reaction wheels came back online and are working properly.


After about one month of travel LADEE began its orbit. This was monitored with a skeleton crew as 97% of NASA’s staff was furloughed in the recent shutdown of the United States government. 

LADEE just made space communication history by using lasers to communicate with Earth from its lunar orbit faster than ever before. Pulsed laser beams sent data 239,000 miles (384,633 kilometers) back to Earth’s surface at a rate of 622 megabits per second. For comparison, 4G LTE downloads run about 10-17 megabits per second.

LADEE’s mission is broken up into five phases: pre-launch; launch, ascent & acquisition; commissioning; science operations; and extended mission or end of life. 

During its 100 science day mission, LADEE will inspect the atmosphere and dust environment on the moon from a variety of altitudes. Eventually, it will go as low as 12 miles (19 km) off the surface of the moon to collect information. Following the science phase, if it does not receive an extended mission, LADEE’s altitude will be gradually lowered until it finally comes to rest on the lunar surface, though it will not be targeted to land in any particular place.


The spacecraft itself is unique in that it was not custom created like many other spacecraft. It was fashioned from parts that can be created on an assembly line for a variety of different applications, which made it considerably less expensive to manufacture. This approach will allow NASA to create spacecraft that look relatively similar but can be customized based on what is needed for a specific mission. LADEE weighs in at about 844 pounds (383 kilograms) and uses around 295 Watts of power.


LADEE has many sophisticated tools. It will use an Ultraviolet and Visible Light Spectrometer (UVS) to ascertain the moon’s atmosphere. The lunar atmosphere is not consistent and has been described as “bumpy.” Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) will record inconsistencies in the atmosphere as the moon travels through different environments and completes several orbits. The Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX) will analyze particles of dust suspended in the lunar atmosphere. This analysis will help determine whether lunar dust was charged by UV light from the sun and caused a glow on the horizon before sunrise. This question has stumped scientists since the days of the Apollo missions.

Photo Gallery

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/ladee%E2%80%99s-mission-moon

This Stunning Image Of Saturn’s Rings Contains A Surprise

If youre confused by this image, we dont blame you. What youre seeing here are the rings of Saturn and the gas giant itself. But the planets rings are, well, rings. Why do they appear to be criss-crossing each other here?

The answer is a pretty awesome illusion, snapped by the Cassini spacecraft thats currently in orbit around Saturn. The bulk of the image is the rings itself, while in the background is the planet Saturn. The lines going the other direction to the rings are actually the shadow of the rings on the planet, visible because the rings are semi-transparent.

Thats not the only surprising thing about this image, though. Take a look just below the middle, and youll spot a gap in one of the rings with a white dot in it. This gap is known as the Encke gap, and the white dot is the moon Pan (28 kilometers/17 miles across). Moons like this form gaps by cleaning out debris from the rings.

Now you see it… NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini took this image from a distance of 1.9 million kilometers (1.2 million miles) from Pan on February 11, 2016, with a scale of 10 kilometers (6 miles) per pixel. The spacecraft arrived in orbit around Saturn in 2004, and since then it has provided uswith incredible views and data from Saturn and its various moons, including Enceladus and Titan.

But, sadly, all good things must come to an end. On September 15 next year, the spacecraft will be sent to its death in the atmosphere of Saturn. This is because, as it runs out of fuel, NASA wants to ensure it wont accidentally hit one of the potentially life-harboring moons and contaminate it with material from Earth.

Dont despair too much, though, because this final death plunge will see Cassini return some groundbreaking science to Earth. Itll be sending back data constantly until its final moments, so well get incredible data from within Saturns rings and from its upper atmosphere as well something weve never gotten before.

Until then, bask in the glory of images like these. With no other spacecraft to Saturn currently in the works, we really shouldn’t take Cassini for granted.

Here’s the full image in all its glory.NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Photo Gallery

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/stunning-image-saturn-contains-more-one-surprise

Does the Moon Have Levitating Lunar Dust?


Did you hear about the new restaurant on the moon? Great food, but no atmosphere.

While that wisecrack has been floating about in space circles for decades, a NASA lunar orbiter will gather detailed information about the moon’s atmosphere next year, including conditions near its surface and environmental influences on lunar dust.

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is to depart the Earth for the moon in August 2013. LADEE is loaded with science gear, including instruments that can address a lingering question that’s rooted in space history: Are electrostatically lofted lunar dust particles present within the moon’s tenuous atmosphere?

Twilight Rays on the Moon

In the 1960s, several NASA Surveyor moon landers relayed images showing a twilight glow low over the lunar horizon persisting after the sun had set. Also, a number of Apollo astronauts orbiting the moon saw twilight rays before lunar sunrise or lunar sunset.

In addition, some have floated the theory that the glowing transient lunar phenomenon seen from Earth might stem from sunlight reflecting off of suspended lunar dust.

LADEE will investigate this moon magic trick of levitating lunar dust. The spacecraft has the tools it needs to address mysteries and questions that have been around since Apollo, said Rick Elphic, LADEE project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.

Ames is responsible for managing the mission, building the spacecraft and performing mission operations.

Elphic told SPACE.com that among its duties, the LADEE mission can further investigate tantalizing hints about the dust and the moon’s exotic atmosphere.

“If we fly LADEE through the regions where the Apollo command module observations were made, we will know right away if there are small grains there or not,” Elphic said. LADEE’s Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX) is a very sensitive dust-detecting instrument, he said, and scientists may be able to place new upper limits on the dust in the first week of the spacecraft’s orbiting operations.

Nagging Moon Question

“If LADEE never sees levitated dust, that settles the question for the high-altitude observations, at least for its mission time frame,” Elphic said.

Still, there’s the nagging question about what Surveyor saw, the near-surface horizon glow. “That might be something else entirely, and can only be addressed with a surface mission,” Elphic said.

“If LADEE does see dust, we will then have a basis for expecting the same phenomena at all other ‘nearly-airless’ bodies around the solar system,” Elphic added.

This dust may not pose much of a hazard, Elphic added, but the physics will need to be explained. Right now, no one has a good end-to-end model for getting dust to loft and secondly, stay suspended for long periods, he said.

“If LADEE observes levitated dust, then scientists will have to explain it. Right now, no one can,” Elphic said.

One-Way Trip Off the Moon

One scientist ready for the new data to be gleaned by LADEE is Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, Apollo 17 moonwalker and geologist. He and astronaut Eugene Cernan walked the lunar surface in December 1972 — the last mission of the Apollo moon landings.

“I do not know if LADEE will see lunar dust in the lunar atmosphere, but I will not be surprised if there is none,” Schmitt told SPACE.com. “We know about several transient gases in that atmosphere, and these may be what causes the horizon glow at sunrise and sunset.”

Moon dust, Schmitt added, was always been on his mind.

“My concern about levitated dust has always been that levitation, if it occurs at all, probably has to be a one-way trip off the moon … because many flat rock surfaces are essentially free of very fine dust, as I personally witnessed on Apollo 17.”

Schmitt said that if dust has been levitated and then dropped again, he would expect the rock surfaces to be covered with such dust.

“Nonetheless, LADEE data on this question, as well as various gases, should give us a lot to think about,” Schmitt said.

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/20/nasa-ladee-levitating-lunar-dust/

Exoplanets Explain Why the ‘Dark Side’ of the Moon Has No Face


A composite image of the Moon.
Image: NASA

Heat radiating from the young Earth could help solve the more than 50-year-old mystery of why the far side of the moon, which faces away from Earth, lacks the dark, vast expanses of volcanic rock that define the face of the Man in the Moon as seen from Earth, researchers say.

The Man in the Moon was born when cosmic impacts struck the near side of the moon, the side that faces Earth. These collisions punched holes in the moon’s crust, which later filled with vast lakes of lava that formed the dark areas known as maria or “seas.”

In 1959, when the Soviet spacecraft Luna 3 transmitted the first images of the “dark” or far side of the moon, the side facing away from Earth, scientists immediately noticed fewer maria there. This mystery — why no Man in the Moon exists on the moon’s far side — is called the Lunar Farside Highlands Problem.

“I remember the first time I saw a globe of the moon as a boy, being struck by how different the far side looks,” study co-author Jason Wright, an astronomer at Pennsylvania State University, said in a statement. “It was all mountains and craters. Where were the maria?”

Far Side of the Moon

The farside of the moon, taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera.

Image: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Now scientists may have solved the 55-year-old mystery; heat from the young Earth as the newborn moon was cooling caused the difference. The researchers came up with the solution during their work on exoplanets, which are worlds outside the solar system.

“There are many exoplanets that are really close to their host stars,”lead study author Arpita Roy, also of Penn State, told Space.com. “That really affects the geology of those planets.”

Similarly, the moon and Earth are generally thought to have orbited very close together after they formed. The leading idea explaining the moon’s formation suggests that it arose shortly after the nascent Earth collided with a Mars-size planet about 4.5 billion years ago, with the resulting debris coalescing into the moon. Scientists say the newborn moon and Earth were 10 to 20 times closer to each other than they are now.

“The moon and Earth loomed large in each other’s skies when they formed, ” Roy said in a statement.

Since the moon was so close to Earth, the mutual pull of gravity was strong. The gravitational tidal forces the moon and Earth exerted on each other braked their rotations, resulting in the moon always showing the same face to Earth, a situation known as tidal lock.

The moon and Earth were very hot shortly after the giant impact that formed the moon. The moon, being much smaller than Earth, cooled more quickly. Since the moon and Earth were tidally locked early on, the still-hot Earth — more than 4,530 degrees Fahrenheit (2,500 degrees Celsius) — would have cooked the near side of the moon, keeping it molten. On the other hand, the far side of the moon would have cooled, albeit slowly.

The difference in temperature between the moon’s halves influenced the formation of its crust. The lunar crust possesses high concentrations of aluminum and calcium, elements that are very hard to vaporize.

“When rock vapor starts to cool, the very first elements that snow out are aluminum and calcium,” study co-author Steinn Sigurdsson of Penn State said in a statement.

Aluminum and calcium would have more easily condensed in the atmosphere on the colder far side of the moon. Eventually, these elements combined with silicates in the mantle of the moon to form minerals known as plagioclase feldspars, making the crust of the far side about twice as thick as that of the near side.

“Earthshine, the heat of Earth soon after the giant impact, was a really important factor shaping the moon,” Roy said.

When collisions from asteroids or comets blasted the moon’s surface, they could punch through the near side’s crust to generate maria. In contrast, impacts on the far side’s thicker crust failed to penetrate deeply enough to cause lava to well up, instead leaving the far side of the moon with a surface of valleys, craters and highlands, but almost no maria.

“It’s really cool that our understanding of exoplanets is affecting our understanding of the solar system,” Roy said.

Future research could generate detailed 3D models testing this idea, Roy suggested. The authors detailed their findings June 9 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/06/16/farside-of-the-moon/